This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," May 3, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," newly released Benghazi e-mails put the White House on the defensive, and raise fresh questions for Hillary Clinton as she gears up for 2016.
Plus, Harry Reid in the hot seat as vulnerable Senate Democrats demand a vote on the Keystone Pipeline.
And a big win for Rick Perry as Toyota moves its headquarters from California to Texas. Can he ride his jobs record all the way to the White House?
Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
Fresh questions this week about the Obama administration's efforts to shake the narrative in the days following September 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four American diplomats. Newly released e-mails show that a White House official played a central role I prepping then-U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice for her controversial talk Sunday talk show appearances. With Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes writing in an e-mail two days before that the administration wanted her, quote, "to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy."
Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; editorial board member, Matt Kaminski; and columnist, Mary Anastasia O'Grady.
Matt, you've been following this for us. I thought all the e-mails were supposed to have been released long ago. How did this turn up now?
MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: And so did Congress --
-- and all the media. This one came out of the request from Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, who put in a Freedom of Information Act request, saying there's more stuff there, we want to see it. They fought it, but they eventually released it last month. And among these 41 documents --
GIGOT: It just got turned over to committee, though, in the last few days.
KAMINSKI: Exactly. To the committee and to the Judicial Watch.
KAMINSKI: And among the 41 documents was kind of a fairly long e-mail from Ben Rhodes that basically showed that the narrative of the narrative put up at the White House, this was all information from the CIA, everything we said, that leak in the first week after the attacks was based on what the intelligence community was telling us.
GIGOT: That's what they had been saying.
KAMINSKI: It was a spontaneous protest that got out of hand. But it turns out actually that Ben Rhodes was very central in directing the narrative from the White House, and putting the blame on the video, which was not in the talking points from the CIA.
GIGOT: And Ben Rhodes, let's make clear, he's not some chief strategist. He's no Henry Kissinger. He's essentially a political operative at the NSC.
KAMINSKI: He was a campaign staffer, campaign speech writer, fairly young guy, who runs the strategy on foreign policy, Paul.
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: And to that point, go back to what he said, that it was blamed on an anti-Islamic video and, quote, "not a broader policy failure."
GIGOT: So that's the key point there.
HENNINGER: Yeah. It's a political statement. I mean, the argument that emerged after this was whether it was an act of terrorism or the Islamic video. He's putting this blanket over it, saying, we were not at fault. And they were not at fault, because Barack Obama was running for president at that time. And it was claiming that he had put a lid on al Qaeda and terrorism.
GIGOT: This is one of those scandals that I don't get. Why didn't they just admit that it was a terrorist attack?
HENNINGER: Good question.
GIGOT: I mean, the American public knows that, Mary, terrorist attacks happen. And I think if they had been honest about it and said, this is despicable, we're going to fight back, I think the public would have said, OK, you know, it's awful, what did you do to prevent it, but I don't think we would have had this ongoing story.
MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, COLUMNIST: I agree, except that there were a lot of things leading up to the terrorist attack that they didn't do. So there was kind of -- this showed a -- it did show a failure of policy in the region. The consulate there had asked for more security.
GIGOT: They had not provided it.
O'GRADY: Right. And I think that it shows that Hillary Clinton was not really responsive to the threats that were in the area. And I think this was something that they didn't want to get out. So they had to say, no, it wasn't something planned that we should have known about. It was something that we could have never have known about, and that's why the video got so much spin.
GIGOT: And it wasn't just Susan Rice who referred to the Internet video. It was Jay Carney on the same day as that Rhodes e-mail was written, went out and said, basically reaction to that Internet video. Hillary Clinton on the same day went to Andrews Air Force Base and mentioned the Internet video, and in this context. So this was a systematic attempt to spin the story, or so it sure sounds like.
KAMINSKI: They had this story eight days after the attacks, where, on that same day, within hours, there was cell phone images, both the CIA guy and the -- another diplomat in Libya said this is definitely an Islamic militia that had planned this. It was too well organized. But I think the problem with the Rhodes e-mail speaks to a broader failure of the administration here.
GIGOT: Which is?
KAMINSKI: Which is they never took this seriously enough. Never gave the American public the feeling they really -- four Americans died, including the ambassador, first time in 30 years this happened. And it's as if they were playing campaign games instead of answering very heard questions about, why weren't we prepared, what did we do during the attacks to maybe try and stop this from happening? And the way they played the aftermath.
O'GRADY: I think that's the key point. Because, you know what Brigadier General Robert Lowell said this week about how he was surprised that there wasn't -- there wasn't some kind of military response to try to help these guys who were under attack.
GIGOT: So the Rhodes e-mail was copied to Jake Sullivan, who was a Hillary Clinton aide at the State Department, if I'm not mistaken, Matt.
And basically, this brings her into all of this -- the spin control at the time. Even as now, of course, she's running for president.
HENNINGER: I think it's a really big problem for Hillary going forward, Paul. On September 11th, she attributed it to the video. She's on public, on video, on September 11th, September 12th and September 13th saying this was undoubtedly resulting because of this Islamic video. I think those public statements are going to be used against her if she runs for president. Because her statements are so soft-soaping of what is going on -- we're investigating and so forth -- it sounds terrible. And so I think it's going to be a huge problem.
GIGOT: But will it matter if the press corps doesn't care about this? Let's face it, Matt, most of the media says, oh, we don't care.