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CNN exclusive: White House email contradicts Benghazi leaks
May 14th, 2013
12:28 PM ET

CNN exclusive: White House email contradicts Benghazi leaks

This story has been updated from its original version.

CNN's Jake Tapper reports:

CNN has obtained an e-mail sent by a top aide to President Barack Obama about White House reaction to the deadly attack last September 11 on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that apparently differs from how sources characterized it to two different media organizations.

The actual e-mail from then-Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes appears to show that whoever leaked it did so in a way that made it appear that the White House was primarily concerned with the State Department's desire to remove references and warnings about specific terrorist groups so as to not bring criticism to the department.

Rhodes, White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri, and White House press secretary Jay Carney, could not be reached for comment.

In the e-mail sent on Friday, September 14, 2012, at 9:34 p.m., obtained by CNN from a U.S. government source, Rhodes wrote:

“All –

“Sorry to be late to this discussion. We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.

“There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don’t compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.

“We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies.”

You can read the e-mail HERE.

ABC News reported that Rhodes wrote: “We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation. We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting.”

ABC News notes in its report that it was provided summaries of White House and State Department emails, not the emails themselves.

The Weekly Standard reported that Rhodes "responded to the group, explaining that Nuland had raised valid concerns and advising that the issues would be resolved at a meeting of the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee the following morning." Nuland refers to then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

Whoever provided those accounts seemingly invented the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed. While Nuland, particularly, had expressed a desire to remove mentions of specific terrorist groups and CIA warnings about the increasingly dangerous assignment, Rhodes put no emphasis at all in his e-mail on the State Department's concerns.

The context of the e-mail chain is important.

Different officials from different agencies were going through iterations of talking points for Congress.

But Nuland, sources who have seen the e-mails say, was not the only one expressing concerns.

There were internal disagreements within the CIA about a number of issues, including whether the attack was a pre-planned act of terror or the result of spontaneous demonstrations because of similar protests in Cairo over an anti-Muslim video produced in the United States.

Such a demonstration never occurred in Benghazi.

FBI officials were also expressing concerns about how much to say about the investigation, and how much information should be shared at that time.

Previous reporting also misquoted Rhodes as saying the group would work through the talking points at the deputies meeting on Saturday, September 15, when the talking points to Congress were finalized. While the previously written subject line of the e-mail mentions talking points, Rhodes only addresses misinformation in a general sense.

Context here, too, is important.

The e-mail chain was generally about the talking points for members of Congress and a government source says Rhodes, in his e-mail, was talking principally about the talking points for members of Congress but he was also discussing other items more broadly, including the investigation into the attacks, related intelligence, and what administration officials would say to reporters and the public.

The deputies’ meeting the next day was to focus on more than just the talking points, sources tell CNN, looking primarily at security at U.S. diplomatic posts around the world.

The "wrong information" being disseminated that Rhodes was addressing would need to be addressed with more than just talking points for members of Congress, but also by trying to forge a general understanding of what the Obama administration was saying about the attack in Benghazi.

In this, it’s hard to conclude that the administration succeeded, given the various and conflicting explanations and continued references to demonstrations in Benghazi against an anti-Muslim video, a demonstration that the intelligence community now concludes did not happen.

So whoever leaked the inaccurate information earlier this month did so in a way that made it appear that the White House – specifically Rhodes – was more interested in the State Department’s concerns, and more focused on the talking points, than the e-mail actually stated.

The e-mail was sent to former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, CIA spokeswoman Cynthia Rapp, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, State Department official Jake Sullivan, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Shawn Turner and others whose names have been redacted from the copy of the e-mail obtained by CNN. The subject line of the e-mail is “Re: Revised HPSCI Talking Points for Review.”

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