ABC News' Jonathan Karl's revelation of the White House's role in 12 revisions to the Benghazi talking points propelled the story, long percolating in conservative media, into a bona fide scandal. But then CNN's Jake Tapper's revelation of what the emails actually said revealed that to be a fake scandal. So who lied to Karl? While Karl's report implied that he was quoting actual emails between the State Department, the CIA, and the White House, they were actually summaries written by congressional staffers who were allowed to read and take notes on the emails earlier this year. Their notes were not transcripts. The summaries quoted deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes saying "the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department," when he actually wrote, "We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation."
The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky wonders whether it's time for Karl to burn his source for lying to him. "Suppose you were a journalist and a source told you someone had committed a felony but that person had not," Tomasky writes "Do you have to protect that source? No." It would not be surprising if Karl does not agree. But we can narrow the mystery a little bit.
Republicans leaked the email summaries, CBS News' Major Garrett reports. Given the way Karl's anonymous source justified the inaccurate summary in a subsequent email, that seems likely. The source said:
"WH reply was after a long chain of email about State Dept concerns. So when WH emailer says, take into account all equities, he is talking about the State equities, since that is what the email chain was about."
Who could that be? On February 15, the general counsel for the national intelligence director's office briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee, leadership, and staff on the emails, according to the Associated Press. On March 19, there was a similar briefing in the House. Karl reports that included the members of the House Intelligence Committee, their staff, and a senior aide to Speaker John Boehner. (Boehner was invited, but sent an aide instead.) That's a lot of people, though a lot less than all Republicans on Capitol Hill. It's 12 senators, plus the staffers who attended the meetings, and 12 representatives, plus Boehner's aide.
And we can probably narrow the source even further, to just the House. A report by five House Republican committeemen made claims that seem based on the inaccurate summaries of the emails. As The Daily Beast's Eli Lake reported April 23, "to protect the State Department, the Administration deliberately removed references to al-Qaeda-linked groups and previous attacks in Benghazi in the talking points used by Ambassador Rice." (We now know that the CIA's Mike Morrell actually took out those references.)
The report says Rice "was informed that the talking points were created for Congressional members, and modified to protect State Department equities and the FBI investigation." The phrase "State Department equities" is awfully close to the language of the summaries provided to ABC's Jonathan Karl, as well as the justification of the summaries. Only House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers was both on the committee that saw the emails and signed the House report, but obviously the report, and the "equities" line, could be based on the emails of many representatives' staffers.