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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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April 29th, 2014
03:27 PM ET

Newly released Benghazi documents reinforce that White House was pushing that video was to blame

By Jake Tapper, CNN Chief Washington Correspondent

New documents obtained by conservative watchdog Judicial Watch reinforce that the White House strongly argued that an anti-Muslim video was the reason for the deadly 2012 terror attacks on U.S. compounds in Benghazi.

This was done even though intelligence and diplomatic sources on the ground were more convinced the attacks that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in eastern Libya were carried out by terrorists and not the spontaneous work of an angry mob.

The new documents can be seen here.

The documents were not included in the initial set of e-mails the White House released last May which show the interagency debate over talking points to go to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

These newly released documents include “TOPLINE POINTS” in question and answer form, prepared by the national security staff, apparently part of the briefing for Susan Rice, then the U.N. ambassador, in preparation for her appearance on Sunday interview shows.

During the debate over the talking points for Capitol Hill from 2013, Republicans argued that the administration removed specific terror references and stuck to an explanation – later proved untrue – that the attack was result of a spontaneous demonstration over an anti-Muslim film that was produced in the United States. There had been such a demonstration in Cairo.

These newly released documents clearly outline that the talking points for Rice emphasize blaming the video. An email from Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, from 8:09 p.m. ET, September 14, 2012, states that among the “Goals” for the prep session with Rice: “To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”

The context of Rhodes’ emails is, of course, that President Barack Obama was in the midst of a heated re-election campaign where one of his talking points was that he had brought a steady hand in fighting terrorists, indeed that “al Qaeda is on the run.”

The White House has long faced accusations that politics infected its response to the September 11 attacks in Benghazi, and officials’ initial insistence that they were not terrorism, but the result of a spontaneous demonstration.

One question and answer in Rhodes’ “Top Line” points includes:

“Q: Romney’s advisor said that these protests wouldn’t have happened under President Romney?”

To which the answer is: “Well, I’m not here to talk about politics. Events abroad are unpredictable. Foreign policy challenges emerge no matter who is President. And I think that people have come to expect steady, statesmanlike leadership from this President on national security, and his response to these protests is no different.”

Other e-mails from the night of September 11 report that Stevens is still missing, with Sean Smith having been killed. Rice adviser Eric Pelofsky emailed that he was “very, very worried. In particular, that he is either dead or that this was a concerted effort to kidnap him.” To that, Rice responds: “God forbid.”

Of course, if this had been a concerted effort to kidnap Stevens that would seem to suggest it wasn’t a spontaneous protest.

E-mails also show White House officials e-mailing around a story by this reporter from September 27, 2012, titled “Some Administration Officials Were Concerned About Initial White House Push Blaming Benghazi Attack on Mob, Video.” Whatever comments may have been made about the story appear to have been redacted from the documents.

The content of the e-mails "reflects what the administration was saying at the time and what we understood to be the facts at the time," National Security Council Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan tells CNN.

"In our view, these documents only serve to reinforce what we have long been saying: that in the days after September 11, 2012, we were concerned by unrest occurring across the region and that we provided our best assessment of what was happening at the time,” says Meehan.

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