Carney: 'The Email and the Talking Points Were Not About Benghazi'

By Susan Jones | May 1, 2014 | 6:39am EDT

White House spokesman Jay Carney (AP File Photo)

( -  A newly declassified email suggests that Susan Rice's talking points on Benghazi may have originated at the White House. But on Wednesday, the White House denied it.

"The email and the talking points were not about Benghazi. They were about the general situation in the Muslim world," Carney told reporters.

The Sept. 14, 2012 email, sent by Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes three days after the deadly Benghazi attack, was intended to prepare then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for her upcoming appearance on five Sunday talk shows, where she blamed the attack on protests arising from an obscure anti-Muslim video.

One of the "goals" listed in the Rhodes email reads: “To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”

But according to Carney, the email "was explicitly not about Benghazi. It was about the overall situation in the region, the Muslim world, where you saw protests at -- outside of embassy facilities across the region, including in Cairo, Sanaa, Khartoum and Tunis."

Carney said several times that the talking points used by Susan Rice to explain what happened in Benghazi were prepared by the CIA, not the White House:

"What I can tell you is, there were talking points produced by the intelligence community on Benghazi. There was another document produced on the overall dynamic in the Muslim world, the fact that there were protests at embassies around the Muslim world, as you would expect to be the case since the very shows that were hosting Ambassador Rice that Sunday were promoting the fact that one of the topics of discussion would be the unrest around the region."

However, a reporter told Carney the Rhodes email suggests that "political calculation" was involved -- that "political considerations were being made in preparing Susan Rice" for her Sunday talk show appearances.

But Carney repeated that the Rhodes email was intended to prepare Susan Rice for "anticipated questions around the upheaval in the Middle East, in the Muslim world, related to the inflammatory video that had caused so many protests around the world. I -- you know, the amount of coverage that CNN and other outlets appropriately gave to those protests is often forgotten now, but this was an enormous story."

Carney said the email was "about the general dynamic" in the Muslim world at that time.

Later, Carney said the White House knew that the Sunday talk shows would focus mainly on the attack that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens:

"Absolutely," Carney said. "And that's why, as members of Congress did, Ambassador Rice relied on points about the Benghazi attack that were produced by the CIA."

Carney said Rice "went out there with the best information that we had at the time. The CIA deputy director has testified to that. The fact that there were protests around the region threatening our embassies at the very same time is something that is often forgotten but obviously affected the whole environment about how we perceived what was happening at the time."

Asked why it took a lawsuit for the White House to release the email to Judicial Watch, Carney replied: "I can say it again and again, and I know you can keep asking again and again. This document was not about Benghazi." Carney repeated that Rice "relied" on the CIA document for her answers about Benghazi -- not on the Rhodes email.

Carney also complained about the "intense effort to politicize" the Benghazi attack, saying the "real issue" has always been to make sure that what happened in Benghazi doesn't happen again.

President Obama has called the talking points controversy a sideshow. But his critics say the Obama administration deliberately misled the American people -- two months before the 2012 election -- because he didn't want to contradict his campaign theme that he had al-Qaeda on the run; and he didn't want to draw attention to his failed policy in Libya.

The Rhodes memo was released on Friday, April 18, as a result of a June 21, 2013, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch against the State Department to gain access to documents about the controversial talking points used by Rice for a series of appearances on television Sunday news programs on September 16, 2012.  Judicial Watch says it has been seeking the documents since October 18, 2012.

The Rhodes email lists the following four "goals":

-- To convey that the United States is doing everything that we can to protect our people and facilities abroad;

-- To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy;

-- To show that we will be resolute in bringing people who harm Americans to justice, and standing steadfast through these protests;

-- To reinforce the President and the Administration's strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.

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