One of the overriding goals with the Congressional Republicans' hearings on the Benghazi attack has been to find a smoking gun that will prove that the administration engaged in a political cover up with regards to the attacks. But that line of attack was put into disarray as evidence emerged that administration emails regarding Benghazi had no evidence of a cover up and that earlier key congressional briefings established that fact clearly.
The emails sent out in the wake of the September 11, 2012 Benghazi attacks were seen by many Republicans as a potential smoking gun that would pin a political cover up on the Obama administration and possibly lead to impeachment hearings. But as more revelations about the e-mails emerged it turned from a straight shot to a misfired dud for the Republican’s arguments.
The White House released the e-mail chain regarding the Benghazi talking points on Wednesday amid a report from ABC News's Jonathan Karl that the talking points had been excessively edited with extensive input from the State Department. However a CNN news story quickly contradicted Karl's story, saying that no specific mention of the State Department's concerns was singled out during the e-mails.
The White House released the entire e-mail chain on Thursday. Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA agent and current analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told USA Today that the whole process appeared to be routine and no different from what he saw during his time in government. He said, "There's no conspiracy here that I can see. It's just how the U.S. government works."
On Friday more revelations came out. It was revealed that key congressional briefings had made the fact that the White House had played neutral moderator during the e-mail dispute between the CIA and the State Department very clear.
According to Talking Points Memo sources that had key knowledge of congressional briefings on the administration's Benghazi emails said that during the briefings it was made clear that the email chain involving the White House was merely adjudicating between the State Department and the CIA and did not seek to intentionally alter the talking points for political gain.
A source who attended the meeting told Talking Points Memo, "I don't recall a single member asking a single question or making a single statement suggesting the White House played anything other than an appropriate role in resolving the disagreement over the talking points."
Their sources also say that many of the changes that involved taking information out of the talking points originated from the CIA and not the State Department, saying:
"The CIA itself and then the ODNI (Office of the Director of National Intelligence) who walked us through the emails all made clear that every one of the changes with regard to the involvement the naming of Al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia were made by the CIA. Petraeus and Morell were saying that last year … They were extremely forthcoming about that from the beginning. That piece of knowledge was repeated so many times in so many different briefings it would be impossible for me to believe that anybody left with the impression that anyone other than the CIA made the changes."
A report released in April by the House Republicans attributed all the changes to the State Department and the White House, a claim thrown in doubt with the new e-mails released by the White House on Thursday.
As more information about the Obama administration's response to the Benghazi attacks emerges, the line of attack that the White House engaged in a political cover up seems further and further from the truth. With their latest smoking gun appearing to only fire blanks, Republicans will need to find another one that is filled with live ammunition.
The GOP may need to pivot to another line of attack and back off from proclaiming this is the biggest political cover up since Watergate. Time will tell if they are able to scale back their rhetoric, or keep soldiering on no matter what comes information come to light.