Judicial Watch: Newly Released Documents Confirm White House Officials Set Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi Response
JUNE 29, 2015
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch today released new State Department documents showing that Hillary Clinton and the State Department’s response to the Benghazi attack was immediately determined by top Obama White House officials, particularly Ben Rhodes, then-White House deputy strategic communications adviser, and Bernadette Meehan, a spokesperson for the National Security Council. The new documents were forced from the U.S. State Department under court order in a Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:14-cv-01511)).
Judicial Watch filed a FOIA request on June 13, 2014, and subsequently a lawsuit on September 4, 2014, seeking:
Any and all records concerning, regarding, or related to notes, updates, or reports created in response to the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. This request includes, but is not limited to, notes taken by then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton or employees of the Office of the Secretary of State during the attack and its immediate aftermath.
A September 11, 2012, email sent at 6:21 p.m. by State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland to Meehan, Under Secretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy, and Clinton’s personal aide Jacob Sullivan shows that the State Department deferred to the White House on the official response to the Benghazi attack. Referencing pending press statements by Barack Obama and Clinton, Nuland wrote: “We are holding for Rhodes clearance. BMM, pls advise asap.”
Meehan responded three minutes later, at 6:24 p.m.: “Ben is good with these and is on with Jake now too.”
Rhodes sent an email at 9:48 p.m. to senior White House and State officials on the issue: “We should let the State Department statement be our comment for the night.”
An email from Meehan, sent at 10:15 p.m. on September 11 to Rhodes, Nuland, Sullivan, Kennedy and Clinton aide Philippe Reines, further confirms the White House approval of Hillary Clinton’s statement tying the Benghazi terrorist attack to an Internet video: “All, the Department of State just released the following statement. Per Ben [Rhodes’] email below, this should be the USG comment for the night.”
The “USG comment” turned out to be Clinton’s notorious public statement, made hours after the initial terrorist attack, falsely suggesting that the Benghazi assault was a “response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet.”
Rhodes emailed Meehan, Sullivan and Reines at 11:45 p.m. on September 11, writing, “Fyi – we are considering releasing this tonight.” The next line is redacted. The email also included a “Readout of President’s Call to Secretary Clinton,” the contents of which are also completely redacted.
On September 12, the day after the attack, Meehan sent an email to Obama administration officials announcing that “to ensure we are all in sync on messaging for the rest of the day, Ben Rhodes will host a conference call for USG communicators on this chain at 9:15AM ET today.”
The new documents show that the Obama administration engaged domestic and foreign Islamist groups and foreign nationals to push the Internet video narrative. The day after the attack, Rashad Hussain, the Obama administration’s special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), sent an email to Ambassador Ufuk Gokcen, the OIC’s ambassador to the United Nations, and Cenk Uraz, an official with the OIC, pushing the video as the cause of the Benghazi attack. The email has the subject line: “Urgent: Anti-Islamic Film and Violence” and reads in part:
I am sure you are considering putting a statement on the film and the related violence. In addition to the condemnation of the disgusting depictions, it will be important to emphasize the need to respond in a way that is consistent with Islamic principles, i.e. not engaging in violence and taking innocent life …
The resulting OIC statement, sent to Hussain by the OIC’s Uraz, linked the film, as requested by the Obama administration, to the Benghazi attack and suggested that the United States restrict free speech in response. The official OIC statement called the film “incitement” and stated that the attack in Benghazi and a demonstration in Cairo “emanated from emotions aroused by a production of a film had hurt [sic] the religious sentiments of Muslims. The two incidents demonstrated serious repercussions of abuse of freedom of expression.” The OIC’s statement referenced its own efforts to criminalize criticism of Islam. Hussain sent the OIC statement immediately to other Obama administration officials, including then-Clinton chief of staff Cheryl Mills, who thanks Hussain for the email.
The State Department withheld communications on September 12, 2012, between Hillary Clinton’s senior aide Huma Abedin and Rashad Hussain about an article passed by him about how “American Muslim leaders” were tying the video to the Benghazi attack. At the time of the Benghazi attack, Abedin had been double-dipping, working as a consultant to outside clients while continuing as a top adviser at State. Abedin’s outside clients included Teneo, a strategic consulting firm co-founded by former Bill Clinton counselor Doug Band. According to Fox News, Abedin earned $355,000 as a consultant for Teneo, in addition to her $135,000 “special government employee” compensation.
The State Department also disclosed a document, dated September 13, 2012, entitled “USG Outreach and Engagement Post Benghazi Attack.” This record details how the Obama administration reached out to domestic groups, foreign groups and governments in a full-court press to tie the video to the Benghazi attack. The document “captures USG efforts to engage outside voices to encourage public statements that denounce the attack make it clear that the anti-Muslim film does not reflect American [sic].” The document highlights the use of Hillary Clinton’s statement tying the terrorist attack to an Internet video. The “outreach” document also highlights “Special Envoy’s engagement” with the OIC and the “Saudi Ambassador.”
The documents show that the Internet video was raised in a September 15 discussion between Hillary Clinton and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The “eyes only” “secret” document was partially declassified. Davutoglu “called the controversial anti-Islam video a ‘clear provocation,’ but added that wise people should not be provoked by it.” The next line is blacked out and the markings show that it will not be declassified until 2027, more than 12 years from now.
Another email, evidently from the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), sent to Meehan and other top White House and administration officials, shows that the administration took no action to deploy military assets almost five hours after the attack begun:
OSD has received queries asking if military assets are being sent to either location [Libya and Egypt]. Have responded “not to our knowledge.”
The State Department referred Judicial Watch to documents in the batch of 55,000 emails allegedly turned over by Hillary Clinton and searched in response to the court order in this lawsuit. These emails were published on the State Department’s web site, but are also available here. In addition, the State Department produced new documents containing Hillary Clinton emails. In one such email (September 11, 2012 at 11:40 p.m.) from Clinton to Nuland, Sullivan and top Clinton aide Cheryl Mills, with the subject line “Chris Smith,” Clinton writes: “Cheryl told me the Libyans confirmed his death. Should we announce tonight or wait until morning?”
Nuland responds: “We need to ck family’s druthers. If they are OK, we should put something out from you tonight.” Mills then replies to Nuland, “Taking S [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] off.” (Sean Smith, not “Chris Smith” was one of four Americans killed at Benghazi.)
On September 13, 2012, Politico’s Mike Allen sent then-National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor an Independent.co.uk news article entitled “America was warned of embassy attack but did nothing.” The story reported that “senior officials are increasingly convinced” the Benghazi attack was “not the result of spontaneous anger.” Vietor forwarded the story to other top White House and State Department officials, but Vietor’s accompanying comments and the comments of other top Obama appointees are completely redacted. The administration also redacted several emails of top State officials discussing a statement by a Romney campaign spokesman criticizing the “security situation in Libya.”
In April 2014, Judicial Watch first obtained smoking-gun documents showing that it was the Obama White House’s public relations effort that falsely portray the Benghazi consulate terrorist attack as being “rooted in an Internet video, and not a failure of policy.”
The documents include an email by White House operative Ben Rhodes sent on Friday, September 14, 2012, with the subject line: “RE: PREP CALL with Susan, Saturday at 4:00 pm ET.” This “prep” was for Ambassador Susan Rice in advance of her appearances on Sunday news shows to discuss the Benghazi attack and deflect criticism of the administration’s security failures by blaming the attack on spontaneous protests linked to the video.
The email listed as one of the administration’s key talking points:
“Goal”: “To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure or policy.”
Documents released by Judicial Watch last month further confirm that the Obama administration, including Hillary Clinton, Rice and Obama immediately knew the attack was an al-Qaeda terrorist attack.
“These documents show the Obama White House was behind the big lie, first promoted by Hillary Clinton, that an Internet video caused the Benghazi terrorist attack,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, “Top White House aide Ben Rhodes, Hillary Clinton, and many key Obama officials pushed others to tie the Internet video to the attacks. It is disturbing that the Obama administration would use Islamist radicals to push the false Benghazi story in a way that would abridge free speech. It is little wonder that Mrs. Clinton and the entire Obama administration have fought so hard to keep these documents from the American people. All evidence now points to Hillary Clinton, with the approval of the White House, as being the source of the Internet video lie.”