CNN’s Jake Tapper this afternoon obtained a version of the same White House e-mail I reported on last week that showed the evolving Benghazi talking points being shaped by the Obama administration last September.
That e-mail, authored by then-Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes on the evening of Sept. 14, 2012, reads, according to CNN:
“Sorry to be late to this discussion. We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.
“There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don’t compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.
“We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies.”
This helps fill out the portrait of the inter-agency deliberations that went into shaping the now-discredited talking points. Assuming, as appears to be the case based on time stamps, that this is a version of the same e-mail ABC News reported on last week, there are some differences.
This is how I reported the contents of that e-mail, quoting verbatim a source who reviewed the original documents and shared detailed notes:
“We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation. We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting.”
The source was not permitted to make copies of the original e-mails. The White House has refused multiple requests – from journalists, including myself, and from Republican leaders in Congress – to release the full e-mail exchanges.
The differences in the two versions are being taken by some as evidence that my source sought to intentionally mislead about the extent of State Department involvement in changing the talking points. The version I obtained makes specific reference to the State Department, while the version reported by CNN references only “all of the relevant equities” and does not single out State.
But there’s another important note here that touches on State Department involvement and shows that the portrait remains far from complete. The subject line of the e-mail, according to CNN, was “Re: Revised HPSCI Talking Points for Review.”
The e-mail was sent to, among others, officials at the CIA, the Director of National Intelligence office, the National Security Council, and the State Department, including then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
The official who provided this e-mail to CNN removed the other e-mail exchanges from other principals. That includes anything written by Nuland, who – as I reported – objected to a paragraph in the draft talking points that referenced prior threats against US and other foreign interests in Libya.
In that e-mail, according to source, Nuland wrote that such information “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that either? Concerned …”
The paragraph Nuland was “concerned” about was removed in its entirety. That e-mail has not been disputed by the administration.
I asked my original source today to explain the different wording on the Ben Rhodes e-mail, and the fact that the words “State Department” were not included in the e-mail provided to CNN’s Tapper.
This was my source’s response, via e-mail: “WH reply was after a long chain of email about State Dept concerns. So when WH emailer says, take into account all equities, he is talking about the State equities, since that is what the email chain was about.”
The White House could still clear up this confusion by releasing the full e-mail transcripts that were provided for brief review by a select number of members of Congress earlier this year. If there’s “no ‘there’ there,” as President Obama himself claimed yesterday, a full release should help his case.