Published May 02. 2014 4:00AM
The release of a new batch of documents involving internal White House communications in the wake of the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi makes a couple of things clear.
The Obama administration was more concerned with protecting President Obama's political standing - he was in the midst of a re-election campaign - than communicating forthrightly with the American public about a national security issue.
Also clear is that the administration should have disclosed a revealing email and other documents much earlier, during the congressional investigations into the matter and in response to media requests. Instead, it took a court order, resulting from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the conservative watchdog group, Judicial Watch, to pry the information free.
Failure to disclose the email and other documents earlier suggests the White House recognized the information would not look good to the public. How foolish. President Obama would have been better off taking his political lumps far sooner. White House press secretary Jay Carney's vacuous assertion Wednesday that the administration did not previously release the documentation because it is not specifically about Benghazi was insulting.
The Sept. 14, 2012 email with the subject "PREP CALL with Susan" was sent by Ben Rhodes, then a deputy national security advisor, and outlined for top administration officials the "goals" of its messaging. Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador, was preparing to appear on Sunday morning news programs.
The plan, stated the email, was to "underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy" and "reinforce the administration's strength and steadiness."
The new disclosures are not a smoking gun. They do not prove the contention of many Republican leaders in Washington that the administration concocted the story of the attack springing from a spontaneous protest, sparked by anti-Islamic video, to cover its policy failures. The assault ended in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
In fact, such a video had generated angry demonstrations outside U.S. embassies in other Mideast countries, including in Cairo, Egypt.
"The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. consulate," states one of the initial CIA emails about the Benghazi attack.
Only later did intelligence gathering reveal that there had been no protest in Benghazi, just the attack.
Rather than creating the video protest story, it appears the administration pushed that aspect to steer discussion away from other troubling points, among them the lack of security and administration policies contributing to the disintegration of civil order in Libya. That's political spin, and inappropriate given the circumstances, but it's not a cover-up.
But by withholding public information until forced to release it, the White House has revived the Benghazi controversy.