The email exchanges the White House released yesterday about the drafting of the Benghazi talking points don't provide a smoking gun for anyone looking to prove that the president's protectors were determined to cover up evidence of al-Qaida involvement.
That said, some of the phrasing sounds more like circling the wagons than the transparency the White House likes to claim. Officials from CIA, the National Security Counsel and the State Department debated wording into the evening of Sept. 14, 2012, three days after the attack.
One participant recommended changes in wording to provide “insulation." State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland chimed in that she wanted to avoid “arming” political enemies on the Hill who might conclude that the State Department should have been prepared for an attack.
Header from Benghazi correspondence
Excerpts below >>
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• It all started with a coffee >>
“…at this morning HPSCI coffee with DCIA, HPSCI members eagerly sought some sort of “white paper” they could use to reply to numerous media requests asking for comments on other inflammatory press articles regarding the Benghazi attacks.” Introduction to an early draft of the talking points.
• Much of the back and forth centered on a reference to the Cairo embassy in the first bullet of the talking points, and a reference to extremists in the second bullet >>
Bullet one: “…On 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of Embassy CAIRO and that jihadists were threatening to break into the Embassy.”
Bullet two: “The crowd almost certainly was a mix of individuals from across many sectors of Libyan Society. That being said, we do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qa’ida participated in the attack.”
• CIA General Counsel Stephen W. Preston chimes in >>
“Second tick says we know extremists with ties to AQ participated in attack, which implies complicity in deaths of the American officers. Do we know this?” 2:39 p.m.
Preston is still concerned an hour later >>
“Folks, I know there is a hurry to get this out, but we need to hold it long enough to ascertain whether providing it conflicts with express instructions from NSS/DOJ/FBI that, in light of the criminal investigation, we are not to generate statements with assessments as to who did this, etc. – even internally, not to mention for public release.” 3:29 p.m.
• Second bullet point is softened to include reference to ongoing investigation >>
“The crowd almost certainly was a mix of individuals from across many sectors of Libyan Society. The investigation is on-going as to who is responsible. That being said, we do know that Islamic extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.” 4:42 p.m.
• Reference to “ongoing” investigation is moved up to first sentence of second bullet >>
“The investigation is ongoing as to who is responsible for the violence, although the crowd almost certainly was a mix of individuals. We do know that Islamic extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.” 6:21 p.m.
• State Department's Victoria Nuland joins in >>
“…I have serious concerns about all the highlighted parts below, and arming members of Congress to start making assertions to the media that we ourselves are not making because we don’t want to prejudice the investigation.”
“…why do we want Hill to be fingering Ansar al Sharia, when we aren’t doing that ourselves until we have investigation results…the penultimate point could be abused by Members to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings so why do we want to feed that either?” 7:39 p.m.