White House Releases Benghazi Email Chain to Try and Clear Its Name

Philip Bump
White House Releases Benghazi Email Chain to Try and Clear Its Name

In an apparent effort to settle the on-going dispute over the development of the government's talking points in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, the White House released, early Wednesday evening, nearly 100 pages of emails outlining how those points were developed.

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The emails (all of which can be seen here) progress as originally reported by ABC News. Initial drafts from the CIA were subjected to feedback from administration officials, the State Department, and other CIA representatives.

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What's more clear from the emails is the extent of the exchange between the parties. The initial ABC report, relying heavily on an unidentified person who had access to the exchange, gave the impression that the State Department was mandating changes unilaterally. On Tuesday, CNN raised questions about that formulation, showing one email which called ABC's presentation into question.

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Republican critics of the administration's response to the attack embraced the ABC report as an indication that the White House (and Obama) and State Department (and Hillary Clinton) were working to hide information that they considered unhelpful. Wednesday's document dump will certainly not entirely eliminate those concerns, but may further bolster the alternative view of the back-and-forth: that the State Department and CIA each wanted to distance themselves from the attack as much as possible.

This is the key page - CIA Deputy Morrell's hand-written edit of Benghazi talking points twitter.com/StevenTDennis/…

— Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) May 15, 2013

The Wall Street Journal explains why the administration likely released the documents at this point.

The decision to release them represented a major shift that officials hope will tamp down the controversy. Administration lawyers for months had rebuffed calls to hand over the emails on the grounds the exchanges were part of internal administration deliberations.

But administration officials have complained that congressional Republicans in recent days have been leaking selective excerpts from the emails to buttress their argument that the talking points were manipulated for political purposes.

Reporters, including ourselves, are poring over the contents; we will update as information is uncovered.