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Benghazi talking-point emails afford opportunities to believe what you want

The White House released almost 100 pages worth of e-mail traffic tracing the evolution of the infamous Benghazi talking points.

The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi in flames on Sept. 11, 2012.
REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori

Late Wednesday, as you may know, the White House released almost 100 pages worth of e-mail traffic tracing the evolution of the infamous Benghazi talking points that play such a large role in the Republican efforts to turn the murder of four U.S. officials into a political scandal for the Obama White House.

I was surprised to learn that the talking points were not prepared for use by then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice in her many talk-show appearances the Sunday morning after the killings but were prepared at the request of Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, for use by members of Congress who might be asked about what had happened.

Writing for “The Week,” Peter Weber picked out five points that struck him as the news from the data dump:

1. Although the e-mail blizzard includes input from the State Department, other intelligence agencies, and some White House officials, the CIA had the first and last word on the content of the talking points.

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 2. It was the CIA and not the State Department that originally wrote (inaccurately, as it turned out) that the Benghazi attack was somehow inspired by the previous riot in Egypt that was set off by the offensive web video that disrespected the founder of Islam.

3. Most of the objections to the CIA’s original draft did come from State Department officials.

4. The White House has said that it suggested only one word change, and that one in the interest of accuracy (the original draft referred to the U.S. “consulate” but there was none in Benghazi, so other wording was suggested). It suggested slightly more than that.

5. Although David Petraeus was CIA director at the time and although his agency had the first and last say, by the end Petraeus thought the talking-points memo wasn’t even worth using.

Of course, those who believe what happened at Benghazi (and in the aftermath) was not just a tragedy but a political scandal, found much to advance their suspicions. Writing for the Weekly Standard, Stephen F. Hayes finds much confirmation (in my opinion, pretty thin, arguable confirmation) of his pre-existing theory that the White House has been lying from the get-go.

The headline on Hayes’ piece, “Benghazi Emails Directly Contradict White House Claims,” strike me as a hype job. But Hayes gets an intellectual honesty brownie point for acknowledging that it was actually the CIA itself that removed a reference to a possible al-Qaida link in the attack that was present in its first draft.


Of course, if liberals (of a certain age) would try to remember how they viewed any release from the Nixon White House during Watergate days, it will become clear that today’s committed righties could not be convinced of anything of which they didn’t want to be convinced by any release emanating from the Obama White House.

I had not been aware of how heavily the highly successful Twin Cities-based righty blog Powerline has been pumping the analogy between Watergate and the Benghazi crime-and-coverup until I checked Powerliner John Hinderaker’s analysis of yesterday’s e-mail release. Hinderaker finds nothing exculpatory worth mentioning in any of the emails, but the first thing I noticed was that Powerline’s analysis ran under a series title of “Benghazigate.”

Sure enough, Powerline has published no fewer than 98 separate pieces under the “Benghazigate” rubric. I find that number impressive. It started exactly one month after the fatal incident with a piece titled “What’s the Difference Between Watergate and Benghazigate?”

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Its first sentence read: “The lying of the Obama administration concerning events at Benghazi is comparable to the lying associated with Watergate.” Pretty high standard, that one.