New Evidence

04.29.14

Obama Administration Accused Of Slow Walking Congress On Benghazi

An important email on Benghazi that showed the White House's role in the election season spin about the attack was only made available to a key Congressional committee two weeks ago.

Almost since Congress began investigating the Benghazi attacks of September 11, 2012 in Libya, the White House has stressed its unprecedented cooperation with lawmakers seeking to get to the bottom of the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Those claims were challenged Tuesday after the conservative watchdog group, Judicial Watch published an email from deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes to senior administration officials on what they should say about the Benghazi attacks. One of the four goals for the White House message was to stress that "these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”

By the time Rhodes wrote that email at 8:09 pm on September 14, 2012, the deputy U.S. chief of mission in Libya, the CIA station chief and the Tunisian President called those protests a terrorist attack at least in Benghazi. (Protests against an internet video depicting the life of the Muslim prophet Mohammed had sprung up in several Arab capitals on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11). That email and others were published Tuesday after Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the State Department. The Rhodes email offers the clearest evidence to date that the talking points read by Susan Rice two days later on Sunday talk shows were indeed directed by the White House.

The Daily Beast has learned that these latest emails were only provided to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform two weeks ago, despite requests from the committee for such material that date back to August 2013. The committee received them on April 17, the same day they were received by Judicial Watch. 

“Even as Congressional Democrats were calling for an end to the Benghazi investigation with false claims that everything had been turned over and examined, the State Department was hiding this e-mail and other documents covered by the Committee’s August 2013 subpoena,” the committee’s deputy staff director, Frederick Hill told The Daily Beast.

Hill added, “It is disturbing that this highly important e-mail showing a White House role in pushing a false narrative was only turned over after it was discovered by the Department’s FOIA office in response to a specific request. While he had promised cooperation, by hiding subpoenaed documents from Congress, Secretary Kerry is failing to meet his legal obligations.”

Hill’s committee received the September 14 email from Rhodes in an April 17 letter from the State Department, along with other requested material. Of the congressional committees investigating Benghazi, the House Oversight Committee has received the least amount of cooperation from the Obama administration. Other House panels such as the House Armed Services Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence have gotten more access to classified material than the oversight committee. 

A year ago, the White House released a tranche of emails to the public that showed how the talking points about the Benghazi attacks in the final weeks of the 2012 elections were crafted with input from several government agencies including the CIA, the State Department, the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center. 

Those emails suggested a haphazard process for arriving at the final talking points on Benghazi in the days and weeks after the attack. It also showed that ultimately the CIA’s then deputy director, Michael Morell removed lines in the drafts of those talking points saying it was an act of terrorism and linked to Islamic extremists.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has since uncovered a report from the CIA station chief in Libya during the attacks and others that said the attack was an act of terror and not a demonstration against an Internet video