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Email suggests White House strategy on Benghazi



America’s U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice speaks at the United Nations, Aug. 30, 2012.

WASHINGTON — A newly released email shows that White House officials sought to shape the way Susan E. Rice, then the ambassador to the United Nations, discussed the Middle East chaos that was the context for the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.

The email dated Sept. 14, 2012, from Benjamin J. Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, to Rice was obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request. The subject of the email was: “PREP CALL with Susan.”

That email was sent ahead of Rice’s appearance on several Sunday morning news talk programs three days after the attacks that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including J. Christopher Stevens, the ambassador to Libya.

Conservative critics of President Barack Obama have long contended that political considerations at the White House were the reason that Rice attributed the Benghazi attacks to spontaneous protests sparked by an anti-Muslim Internet video. Critics have said she played down the idea that the attacks were linked to terrorism because it would undermine the notion that Obama was winning the war on terror.

The email from Rhodes includes goals for Rice’s appearances on the shows and advice on how to discuss the subject of the protests that were raging in Libya and at other U.S. diplomatic posts in the Middle East.

Among the goals that Rhodes identified: “To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” In a section called “Top-lines,” Rhodes added: “Since we began to see protests in response to this Internet video, the president has directed the Administration to take a number of steps. His top priority has been the safety and security of all Americans serving abroad.”

Earlier emails had documented the concern among White House and other administration officials about talking points produced by the CIA about the Benghazi incident. The email sent by Rhodes and released Wednesday had not been part of the previous batch of documents.

Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, dismissed the new email as irrelevant, saying that the subject of the advice from Rhodes in the email was not about Benghazi but rather about the protests that were taking place across the Middle East at the time.

“This document, as I said, was explicitly not about Benghazi but about the general dynamic in the Arab, or in the Muslim world, at the time,” Carney told reporters. “This was part of our effort to explain our views, both as a matter of policy and as a matter of what was happening on the ground with regards to the protests that were underway around the region.”

Carney said the email from Rhodes had not been included with the prior batch of documents because it was not directly about the Benghazi attack. But conservatives signaled that they intend to use the new document as evidence that Rice’s appearances on the talk shows were guided by political, not intelligence, considerations.

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