Most of the media refuses to cover what happened in Benghazi in 2012, and Congressional Republicans have been less than skillful in their probes. But the story isn't going away despite the best efforts of the Obama Administration and the Hillary for President campaign.
The latest revelation comes from White House emails in the days after the September 11, 2012 terrorist strike on the U.S. mission in Libya's second largest city. These emails weren't included last year in what the Administration claimed was a complete set of documents about its handling of the attack and its aftermath. They were released Tuesday after the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act request. We can see why the Administration tried to keep them under wraps.
A September 14, 2012 email from Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, sets out the Administration's view of the cause of the Benghazi attacks. He wrote it to prepare U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. and current national security adviser Susan Rice for her appearances on the Sunday news shows two days later. As Mr. Rhodes wrote, the Administration wanted her "to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy."
In fact the attack on the diplomatic compound and CIA annex was a planned and well-coordinated assault by Islamist groups with ties to al Qaeda that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Within hours, State and CIA officials at the Embassy in Tripoli, Libya's president and video footage made that clear. Yet the Administration settled on deceptive spin and stuck to it for over a week.
Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, on Sept. 14 blamed the attack on a spontaneous protest against an obscure anti-Muslim video posted on YouTube. Two days later, Ms. Rice returned repeatedly to the video in her appearances on the Sunday shows, saying on Fox News that "what sparked the recent violence was the airing on the Internet of a very hateful, very offensive video that has offended many people around the world."
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary ClintonAFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also pushed the video fiction, telling the public on Sept. 14 at Andrews Air Force base as the remains of the four dead were returned that, "We have seen rage and violence directed at American Embassies over an awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with."
The White House also found a scapegoat in the intelligence community, blaming the CIA for drawing up the faulty "talking points" used by Administration officials. Last May it released drafts of emails from the CIA, with input from State and the White House, that spontaneous protests had "evolved into a direct assault." Yet those talking points never mentioned a video, and earlier this month former acting CIA Director Mike Morell said he didn't understand why Ms. Rice had mentioned it.
Mr. Rhodes's email provides the answer. The message directive came directly from the White House and was followed to the word. Mr. Rhodes alluded to the video in five spots in his email. On Wednesday, Mr. Carney still insisted Ms. Rice had "relied on points about the Benghazi attack that were produced by the CIA." He must think the press corps is stupid.
The Rhodes email shows a White House political operative trying to protect his boss two months before Election Day. Mr. Obama's campaign said al Qaeda was on the run and it was time for "nation-building at home." The terror attack on Americans in Benghazi didn't fit this story. It did, however, expose the "broader failure of policy" (to use Mr. Rhodes's phrase) in North Africa in the wake of the Arab political upheavals in 2011.
After the election, the Administration was slow to cooperate with congressional investigations. The "talking points" emails were released last May only after parts were leaked to the press. The Rhodes email was subpoenaed last August, but the White House blocked release until it seemed obvious it would lose its attempts to keep them secret.
All of this bears directly on Mrs. Clinton's qualifications to be President. Her State Department overlooked repeated warnings about a growing militant threat in Benghazi, denying requests for improved security. And the father of a CIA contractor told media outlets that Mrs. Clinton tried to comfort him by promising that the maker of the YouTube video would be "prosecuted and arrested," though the video had nothing to do with his son's death.
The several congressional investigations into Benghazi have been undermined by turf battles and shoddy work. We long ago advised that a select committee could focus the effort and bring overdue clarity to a shameful episode in American history. It still could.