WH: ‘We Decline to Comment’ on When Obama Learned of E-Mails, Met With NSC on Benghazi

October 24, 2012 - 4:14 PM

Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the White House on Sept. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(CNSNews.com) - The White House is declining to say when President Barack Obama first learned of three e-mails that the State Department sent to the White House on Sept. 11, 2012, directly notifying the Executive Office of the President that the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was under attack, that U.S. Amb. Chris Stevens was at the Benghazi mission at the time of the attack, and that the group Ansar al-Sharia had taken credit for the attack.

The White House also declined to say when the president first met with the National Security Council after the Benghazi attack.

“I have been asked by one of our spokespeople to relay ‘that we decline to comment,’” said White House National Security Staff aide Debbie Bird in a written response to CNSNews.com.

CNSNews.com had asked Bird: 1) “When did the President first meet with the National Security Council after the Benghazi attack on 9/11/12?” 2) “When did White House staff first discuss the substance of the e-mails that went to the White House with the President or with the National Security Advisor?”

Carney also took a question about the e-mails today during a press gaggle held aboard Air Force One at 9:34 a.m. A reporter asked: “Jay, there are some emails that have emerged, which suggest that the White House and other areas of the government were told within hours of the Benghazi attack that an extremist group had claimed responsibility. How is that compatible with the idea that it was a spontaneous attack?”

Carney downplayed the significance of the State Department emails.

“There were emails about all sorts of information that was becoming available in the aftermath of the attack,” Carney said. “The email you’re referring to was an open-source, unclassified email referring to an assertion made on a social media site that everyone in this room had access to and knew about instantaneously. There was a variety of information coming in.

“The whole point of an intelligence community and what they do is to assess strands of information and make judgments about what happened and who was responsible,” said Carney, “and I would refer you to what we’ve already said about, and what the DNI [Director of National Intelligence] has already said about, the initial assessments of the intelligence community, and the fact that throughout this process, I and others made very clear that our preliminary assessments were preliminary, that an investigation was underway, and that as more facts became available, we would make the American people aware of them.

“Again,” said Carney, “this was an open-source, unclassified email about a posting on a Facebook site. I would also note I think that within a few hours, that organization itself claimed that it had not been responsible. Neither should be taken as fact. That’s why there’s an investigation underway.”

The NSC is chaired by the president, and includes Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. A NSC meeting would allow the leader of the intelligence community to communicate directly with the leader of the State Department in the presence of the president and for all of them to weigh any conflicting information.

The three emails in question, which were obtained by CBS News, were sent by the State Department to various government officials, including two officials in the Executive Office of the President, on Sept. 11, 2012, while the attack on the Benghazi was taking place and immediately after it had taken place.