There have been some very interesting and revealing developments this week in the ongoing investigation of what happened in the Benghazi attacks that led to American officials being killed. The most important development was the release of key emails from the White House – released only after a FOIA lawsuit compelled them to do so. One email shows that the White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser instructed high-level administration officials, including Susan Rice (who appeared on the Sunday shows to argue that the Benghazi incident arose in response to a YouTube video – a theory now debunked), to blame the incident on a YouTube video so as to downplay any policy failures in the region.
Some are calling the email a “smoking gun,” and it is at least in the context of establishing a clear White House link to the talking points that we now know are inaccurate in their blaming of the video as the cause of the riots and attack [NOTE: it is highly questionable that the Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser would have made the decision to blame the video, so where this talking point originated is still unclear]. But what may be the key to understanding what these emails show is what happened in Cairo, which is something Andrew McCarthy explains/argues.
First, one must understand the Cairo-Benghazi link. John Dickerson at Slate, in an attempt to downplay the significance of the latest emails, explains the link. As Dickerson writes, the first available CIA talking points causally linked the Benghazi attacks to the riots in Cairo. Then, Dickerson explains what the Obama administration’s argument is on Benghazi: the cause of the Cairo riots was deemed to be the video [UPDATE: But the video was not causally mentioned in the emails Dickerson cited, and testimony from former CIA Director Michael Morell suggests the CIA didn't argue that the video was the cause]. So the logic looks like this: the video spurred an uprising in Cairo, which then incited violence in Benghazi. This is apparently case closed to Dickerson, but McCarthy has gone a step further to get to the heart of the matter.
McCarthy asks key questions: was the Cairo riot really caused by the video (and he’s obviously not buying it), and was there a reasonable basis for that belief? If not, then Benghazi couldn’t have been reasonably blamed on the video even if the Benghazi attack were linked to Cairo (at least based on the CIA emails Dickerson cites). So what is the factual basis for blaming the video for the Cairo uprising, and therefore the Benghazi attacks? That’s a key question. For the administration to say it reasonably believed that the uprisings in Cairo and Benghazi could both be linked to the video, it must be able to produce evidence of that belief. Without such evidence, it would be apparent that the administration didn’t honestly blame the video. And even with such evidence, the administration officials who made this decision would have to show that the basis for blaming the video would outweigh all the evidence that the Benghazi attacks were unrelated to the video.
We now know the video was not the reason for the Benghazi attacks in which American officials were killed. This means that having blamed the video, the administration was either mistaken or not being honest at a time just before what appeared like it would be a close presidential election. And that’s the reason this matters, especially when one of the key players – then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – may run for President. It’s imperative that we know these answers at least so that we can question the character and judgment of a person who might be on the ballot for our next Commander in Chief.
UPDATE: Jen Rubin points out that the State Department apparently didn’t blame the video either, so where did the rationale for the video come from, and why did administration officials go along with it if it were indeed a false or unlikely narrative?
UDATE: Sharyl Atkisson cites State Department emails also showing that State didn’t attribute the Benghazi attacks to the video. Again, where was the factual basis for Ben Rhodes’ White House email linking Benghazi to the video?