Benghazi emails reveal Obama White House's obsession with spin control

Ambassador John Bolton says understanding what went wrong in Libya is important to our security


When it dumped 100 emails related to the Benghazi talking points Wednesday night, the Obama White House showed it hasn’t been telling the truth.  

These talking points were not the sole product of the intelligence community, but were in fact edited by State Department officials and White House officials and then decided upon at a White House meeting.  

After reading these emails, it’s clear the administration’s principal concern behind the edits was to protect itself from public and Congressional criticism, not to get out the facts of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in which four Americans died.


But the emails also leave unanswered important questions, while offering tantalizing clues and suggestions.  

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First, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was pushing to water down the CIA-drafted talking points. But she’s not the person in charge at State.  

At 9:24 PM Friday, September 14, she complained that the edits made so far “don't resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership. They are consulting with NSS.”  NSS could stand for National Security Staff, i.e., the White House.

So who above Ms. Nuland at the State Department was talking to whom at the White House?  And did these unnamed parties agree on the final edits that were laid out at a National Security Council Deputies meeting at the White House on the morning of September 15?

Second, we still don’t know who is responsible for cooking up the story offered by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice on Sunday morning, September 16, namely that an anti-Muslim video was the cause of the attack on the Consulate.  The emails may yield a possible clue.

There's a series of emails starting Saturday afternoon and going into the evening between an unnamed person at the U.S. mission to the U.N. and National Security Council communications chief Ben Rhodes and NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor about the preparation for Ms. Rice for the Sunday morning talk programs.  Could the unnamed USUN staffer be Erin Pelton, the spokesperson for the mission?

Ms. Nuland has already told the press she had nothing to do with prepping Ms. Rice.

Jacob Sullivan, then at the State Department, and now Vice President Joe Biden's foreign policy advisor, says he, too, had nothing to do with preparing Ms. Rice.

But Saturday afternoon and evening, this unnamed USUN staffer told two White House staffers that they needed to get settled on Ms. Rice’s appearances the next morning.

Does that mean the USUN staffer, Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Vietor were responsible for cooking up the absurd and misleading storyline that an anti-Muslim video caused the death of four Americans when it was clear this was a terrorist assault carried out by a group with ties to Al Qaeda?

One final observation: when the task at hand was explaining what happened at Benghazi, it is amazing that so much of the email traffic was between at least seven communications people in six agencies.  

With all due respect to communications people, laying out the facts about the Benghazi attacks was a task better left to substantive policymakers, not spin merchants whose principal concern might have been the election less than two months off.

There’s even a summary of a secure video conference conducted Friday with a number of national security, intelligence, and counter-terrorism officials during which Mike Morell, the deputy director of the CIA, offered to sit down with Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Vietor to work out the talking points.   

When the deputy CIA director is working on talking points with communications people three layers down in the White House, it shows the power of the spin patrol within the West Wing and gives the appearance that the White House is the ultimate shot caller on the talking points.

Since this is contrary to everything the Obama administration has said previously, these spin merchants have been forced to work overtime recently.

The pressure is not likely to end soon, and they have no one to blame but themselves.  

Karl Rove joined Fox News Channel as a political contributor in February 2008. He also currently serves as a columnist for the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Rove helped organize the political-action committee American Crossroads. His latest book is "The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters" (Simon & Schuster, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @KarlRove.