The Revenge of the Curse of the Talking Points' Ghost

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 16 2013 4:23 PM

The Revenge of the Curse of the Talking Points' Ghost

I'm a little late to a development in #Benghazi. Ryan Lizza might have already written everything that needed to be written about it, with some verve, as a reporter who profiled Darrell Issa in the days when he was merely the future House Oversight chairman. But it's been a day since everyone's been able to read the unredacted portions of the State-White House-CIA round robin of Benghazi talking points edits. Tomorrow, it'll be a weak since the ABC News story by Jon Karl that included these grafs.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

In an email dated 9/14/12 at 9:34 p.m. — three days after the attack and two days before Ambassador Rice appeared on the Sunday shows – Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes wrote an email saying the State Department’s concerns needed to be addressed.
“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.”
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That read like a verbatim quote. It took four days for Jake Tapper to obtain an e-mail that read very differently.

In the e-mail sent on Friday, September 14, 2012, at 9:34 p.m., obtained by CNN from a U.S. government source, Rhodes wrote:

“All –
“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.”

These were, as Jay Carney might say, more than cosmetic changes. In the real email (we've seen that email, the Tapper version, in the WH doc dump), there are no mentons of "talking points," and there's no specific mention of the State department. What went wrong? According to Karl, "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."

It's unbecoming to demand that a reporter release his source. But who was looking at the e-mails yet "not permitted to make copies?" Why, Republican investigators in the House. They complained about this, with Darrell Issa saying Republicans were only allowed to see disorganized collections of e-mails for a few hours a day. Occam's razor: The source leaking versions of Benghazi talking points to reporters was a Republican investigator with a tacit interest in raking the administration over the coals. This was the third megascandal, after Solyndra and Fast and Furious, that Republicans fueled by accusing the administration of stone-walling, of not providing the right documents. This time, the demand boomeranged and smacked them in the face.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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