White House press secretary Jay Carney said newly released emails showing White House involvement in promoting the narrative that a video prompted the deadly attacks in Benghazi, Libya were not actually “explicitly” about Benghazi, but about all of the protests at U.S. diplomatic posts in the region “overall.” It was all part of a tense White House press briefing.
“The emails and the talking points were not about Benghazi,” Carney told reporters Wednesday. “They were about the general situation in the Muslim world where you saw, as you might recall, it was explicitly not about Benghazi, it was about the overall situation in the region, the Muslim world, where we saw protests outside of embassy facilities across the region.”
Carney read aloud headlines from promos of ABC’s “This Week” and “Fox News Sunday” about general unrest in the Middle East after the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks that focused not only on Benghazi but also on protests at other U.S. compounds in the Middle East.
“The fact is the connection between the attack and the video turned out not to be the case, but it was based on the best information that we had,” Carney said during a tense exchange with ABC reporter Jonathon Karl.
Carney added: “The overall issue of unrest in the Muslim world and the dangers posed by these protests to our embassies was very much a topic in the news.
“The implication is that we were somehow holding back information when it fact we were simply saying what we thought was right,” he said. “And when elements of that turned out not to be true, we were the first people to say so. It was based on what we knew at the time.”
Conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch on Tuesday released emails showing that top-ranking White House officials in the communications office set up talking points for then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, claiming the unrest was “rooted in [an] Internet video” and not “a broader failure or policy.” The emails seemed to show White House spokesman Ben Rhodes collaborating with other senior White House officials to shield President Barack Obama from criticism.
Rice went on several Sunday morning news programs and asserted that the Benghazi attacks resulted from an anti-Muslim video on YouTube.
Carney stressed that such preparation was not unusual to any White House in anticipation of what questions might be asked on the Sunday shows.
“There was a question-and-answer document prepared for Ambassador Rice that would recommended answers and anticipated question around the upheaval in the Middle East and Muslim world related to the inflammatory video that cause so much protest around the world. The amount of coverage that CNN and other outlets appropriately gave to those protests is often forgotten now. But this was an enormous story,” he said.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Congress has sought answers for two years, and now the documents obtained by Judicial Watch show why the administration has not been forthcoming.
“For nearly two years the White House has sought to avoid answering those questions,” Cantor said in a statement. “Now we know why it required a court order to finally force the White House to respond to those inquiries. The email from Ben Rhodes demonstrates the Obama Administration from the beginning misled Congress, the media and most importantly, the American people.”
“It is increasingly clear that this Administration orchestrated an effort to deflect attention away from their failed Libya policy and the resurgence of al Qaeda and other terrorists,” Cantor added.