Pfeiffer Stretches the Truth on Benghazi E-mails
By Jonathan Strong
May 19, 2013 2:02 PM
On the Sunday shows today, White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer sought to discredit criticism over how the infamous Benghazi talking points were scrubbed of references to terrorism by focusing on the differences between how ABC News described a single White House e-mail and its actual text:
Here’s the evidence that proves the Republicans are playing politics with this: They received these emails months ago, didn’t say a word about it, didn’t complain, confirmed the CIA director . . . right after that. And then last week, a Republican source provided to Jon Karl of ABC News a doctored version of the White House email that started this entire fury. After 25,000 pieces of paper that were provided to Congress, they have to doctor an email to make political hay, you know they’re getting desperate here.
This is wrong in four ways.
Point one: Republicans never “received” the e-mails. Here’s what really happened: On March 19, the White House briefed the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, along with staff for Speaker John Boehner and minority leader Nancy Pelosi, on the e-mails in question. Those at the briefing were permitted to take notes but not copy the contents of the e-mails. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, was not represented at this session.
Point two: Republicans raised strenuous objections based on the information they were given at that briefing. In their interim report on Benghazi, released April 23, House Republicans alleged that “White House and senior State Department officials altered accurate talking points drafted by the Intelligence Community in order to protect the State Department.” The report described and, in one case, quoted from the e-mails in question.
Point three: Nothing was “doctored.” Following the House report, Steve Hayes of The Weekly Standard revealed a significant amount of new detail, followed by Jon Karl at ABC News. Both Hayes and Karl refer to summaries of the e-mails, meaning they presumably relied a great deal on the notes of those at the March 19 White House briefing. Karl inaccurately quotes from one e-mail, which may have been based on faulty note-taking or some other error. While this is significant, the e-mail in question exists and has the same core content as the e-mail quoted by Karl — there was no wholesale fabrication.
Point four: The differences between the two versions of the e-mail have been overstated. At issue is the involvement of Ben Rhodes, a senior White House aide, in directing the various members of the inter-agency discussion to resolve their dispute.
Here’s the relevant part of the e-mail as quoted by Karl:
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.
Here’s the relevant sentence from the real e-mail:
We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.
The e-mail is important because in the preceding e-mail back-and-forth, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland had urged that references to terrorism be removed because they could be a political liability to State. Whether Rhodes said Nuland’s objections should be accommodated explicitly or by implication is a difference, but it’s a pretty small one.
Furthermore, there is ample evidence beyond this e-mail that the White House and State Department were deeply involved in editing the talking points to scrub references to terrorism. The evidence blows Jay Carney’s repeated assurances that the White House and State Department only made one “stylistic” edit out of the water — with or without this e-mail.