(Washington, DC) - Judicial Watch announced today that on April 18, 2014, it obtained 41 new Benghazi-related State Department documents. They include a newly declassified email showing
then-White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes
and other Obama administration public relations officials attempting to
orchestrate a campaign to "reinforce" President Obama and to portray
the Benghazi consulate terrorist attack as being "rooted in an Internet
video, and not a failure of policy." Other documents show that State
Department officials initially described the incident as an "attack" a
possible kidnap attempt.
The documents were released Friday as result of a June 21, 2013,
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed against the Department
of State (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State
(No. 1:13-cv-00951)) to gain access to documents about the
controversial talking points used by then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice for a
series of appearances on television Sunday news programs on September
16, 2012. Judicial Watch had been seeking these documents since
October 18, 2012.
The Rhodes email
was sent on sent on Friday, September 14, 2012, at 8:09 p.m. with the
subject line: "RE: PREP CALL with Susan, Saturday at 4:00 pm ET." The
documents show that the "prep" was for Amb. Rice's Sunday news show
appearances to discuss the Benghazi attack.
The document lists as a "Goal": "To underscore that these protests
are rooted in and Internet video, and not a broader failure or policy."
Rhodes returns to the "Internet video" scenario later in the email, the first point in a section labeled "Top-lines":
[W]e've made our views on this video crystal clear. The United
States government had nothing to do with it. We reject its message and
its contents. We find it disgusting and reprehensible. But there is
absolutely no justification at all for responding to this movie with
violence. And we are working to make sure that people around the globe
hear that message.
Among the top administration PR personnel who received the Rhodes
memo were White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, Deputy Press Secretary
Joshua Earnest, then-White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, then-White House Deputy Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri, then-National Security Council Director of Communications Erin Pelton, Special Assistant to the Press Secretary Howli Ledbetter, and then-White House Senior Advisor and political strategist Davie Plouffe.
The Rhodes communications strategy email also instructs recipients to
portray Obama as "steady and statesmanlike" throughout the crisis.
Another of the "Goals" of the PR offensive, Rhodes says, is "[T]o
reinforce the President and Administration's strength and steadiness in
dealing with difficult challenges." He later includes as a PR
"Top-line" talking point:
I think that people have come to trust that President Obama provides
leadership that is steady and statesmanlike. There are always going to
be challenges that emerge around the world, and time and again, he has
shown that we can meet them.
The documents Judicial Watch obtained also include a September 12, 2012, email from former DeputySpokesman at U.S. Mission to the United Nations Payton Knopf
to Susan Rice, noting that at a press briefing earlier that day, State
Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland explicitly stated that the
attack on the consulate had been well planned. The email sent by Knopf
to Rice at 5:42 pm said:
Responding to a question about whether it was an organized terror
attack, Toria said that she couldn't speak to the identity of the
perpetrators but that it was clearly a complex attack.
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