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JW Smoking Gun: Benghazi Documents Point to White House on Misleading Talking Points

Written by Tom Fitton

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To say this has been a busy week at Judicial Watch is a massive understatement. In fact, this has been one of the most important and eventful weeks in the history of Judicial Watch. On Tuesday, we released explosive new Benghazi scandal documents which immediately precipitated a Washington firestorm that placed the Obama White House on the defensive and may even lead to criminal charges.

And what’s the big discovery that had every news outlet in the country headlining Judicial Watch’s work?

On April 18, 2014, JW obtained 41 new Benghazi-related State Department documents. They include a newly declassified email showing then-White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes and other Obama administration public relations officials attempting to orchestrate a campaign to “reinforce” President Obama and to portray the Benghazi consulate terrorist attack as being “rooted in an Internet video, and not a failure of policy.” Other documents show that State Department officials initially described the incident as an “attack” and a possible kidnap attempt.

Now, am I shocked to find the Obama White House behind this egregious lie? Not at all. The facts of the Benghazi attack, aftermath and cover-up suggested as much. But owing largely to Obama secrecy and stonewalling, evidence has been elusive – until Judicial Watch investigators and attorneys worked their magic and got hold of these records.

This has been a long battle. We filed our first Freedom of Information (FOIA) request on October 12, 2012, to gain access to documents about the controversial talking points used by then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice for a series of appearances on television Sunday news programs on September 16, 2012. Ultimately, we had to sue to get them. But it was well worth the effort.

As I say, JW’s discovery was of high interest to a press long frustrated by the Obama administration’s misdirection and obfuscation over Benghazi. Here are just a few of the headlines:

Now let’s get to the meat of this find.

The Rhodes email was sent on sent on Friday, September 14, 2012, at 8:09 p.m. with the subject line: “RE: PREP CALL with Susan, Saturday at 4:00 pm ET.” The documents show that the “prep” was for Amb. Rice’s Sunday news show appearances to discuss the Benghazi attack.

The document lists as a “Goal”: “To underscore that these protests are rooted in and Internet video, and not a broader failure or policy.”

Rhodes returns to the “Internet video” scenario later in the email, the first point in a section labeled “Top-lines”:

[W]e’ve made our views on this video crystal clear. The United States government had nothing to do with it. We reject its message and its contents. We find it disgusting and reprehensible. But there is absolutely no justification at all for responding to this movie with violence. And we are working to make sure that people around the globe hear that message.

Among the top administration PR personnel who received the Rhodes memo were White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, Deputy Press Secretary Joshua Earnest, then-White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, then-White House Deputy Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri, then-National Security Council Director of Communications Erin Pelton, Special Assistant to the Press Secretary Howli Ledbetter, and then-White House Senior Advisor and political strategist David Plouffe.

The Rhodes communications strategy email also instructs recipients to portray Obama as “steady and statesmanlike” throughout the crisis. Another of the “Goals” of the PR offensive, Rhodes says, is “[T]o reinforce the President and Administration’s strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.” He later includes as a PR “Top-line” talking point:

I think that people have come to trust that President Obama provides leadership that is steady and statesmanlike. There are always going to be challenges that emerge around the world, and time and again, he has shown that we can meet them.

The documents Judicial Watch obtained also include a September 12, 2012, email from former Deputy Spokesman at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations Payton Knopf to Susan Rice noting that at a press briefing earlier that day State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland explicitly stated that the attack on the consulate had been well planned. The email sent by Knopf to Rice at 5:42 pm said:

Responding to a question about whether it was an organized terror attack, Toria said that she couldn’t speak to the identity of the perpetrators but that it was clearly a complex attack.

In the days following the Knopf email, Rice appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News and CNN still claiming the assaults occurred “spontaneously” in response to the “hateful video.” On Sunday, September 16 Rice told CBS’s “Face the Nation:

But based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy–sparked by this hateful video.

The Judicial Watch documents confirm that CIA talking points, that were prepared for Congress and may have been used by Rice on “Face the Nation” and four additional Sunday talk shows on September 16, had been heavily edited by then-CIA deputy director Mike Morell. According to one email:

The first draft apparently seemed unsuitable….because they seemed to encourage the reader to infer incorrectly that the CIA had warned about a specific attack on our embassy. On the SVTS, Morell noted that these points were not good and he had taken a heavy hand to editing them. He noted that he would be happy to work with [then deputy chief of staff to Hillary Clinton]] Jake Sullivan and Rhodes to develop appropriate talking points.

The documents obtained by Judicial Watch also contain numerous emails sent during the assault on the Benghazi diplomatic facility. The contemporaneous and dramatic emails describe the assault as an “attack”:

September 11, 2012, 6:41 PM – Senior Advisor Eric Pelofsky, to Susan Rice:

As reported, the Benghazi compound came under attack and it took a bit of time for the ‘Annex’ colleagues and Libyan February 17 brigade to secure it. One of our colleagues was killed – IMO Sean Smith. Amb Chris Stevens, who was visiting Benghazi this week is missing.  U.S. and Libyan colleagues are looking for him…

At 8:51 pm, Pelofsky tells Rice and others that “Post received a call from a person using an [sic] RSO phone that Chris was given saying the caller was with a person matching Chris’s description at a hospital and that he was alive and well. Of course, if the he were alive and well, one could ask why he didn’t make the call himself.”

Later that evening, Pelofsky emailed Rice that he was “very, very worried. In particular that he [Stevens] is either dead or this was a concerted effort to kidnap him.” Rice replied, “God forbid.”

September 11, 2012, 4:49 PM – State Department press officer John Fogarty reporting on “Libya update from Beth Jones”:

Beth Jones [Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs] just spoke with DCM Tripoli Greg Hicks, who advised a Libyan militia (we now know this is the 17th Feb brigade, as requested by Emb office) is responding to the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi.”

Material is blacked out (or redacted) in many emails.

And what was the Obama White House response to Judicial Watch? What would you expect the Obama White House to do when caught – without a shadow of a doubt – lying and misleading the American people – attack, attack, attack! Bernadette Meehan, National Security Council spokeswoman accused JW of “politicizing” the Benghazi scandal.

Fox News Channel’s Charles Krauthammer had a different reaction: “We now have the smoking document, which is the White House saying, ‘We’re pushing the video because we don’t want to blame it on the failure of our policies.’”

That’s as spot-on as it gets. As Krauthammer notes, it was the Obama gang who politicized Benghazi, lying and stonewalling and covering up in order to protect the president in an election season.

The Obama White House’s chief concern about the Benghazi attack was making sure that President Obama looked good.

These documents undermine the Obama administration’s narrative that it thought the Benghazi attack had something to do with protests or an Internet video. Given the explosive material in these documents, it is no surprise that we had to go to federal court to pry them loose from the Obama State Department.

White House spokesman Jay Carney, who is implicated in this scandal (he received the smoking gun email) went so far as to say that the email was not about Benghazi!  This is a ludicrous lie, as this document was forced out of the State Department by JW in a lawsuit about Benghazi!  The media is slamming Carney for his spin but I see his lie as more of a criminal defense.

The Rhodes email was responsive to a congressional subpoena on Benghazi. Thwarting a subpoena and congressional investigation can put you in jail.  So that is why I would argue Carney is saying the document is not about Benghazi – to admit otherwise could lead to criminal charges for whoever covered this White House document up!

Events are breaking fast. As I write this, John Kerry has been subpoenaed and Speaker John Boehner is set to announce a select committee to investigate Benghazi – all thanks to Judicial Watch!

I will close with this. In addition to the massive amount public attention, JW has been deluged with “kudos” coming from JW donors and supporters. Here is just one example:

“That Judicial Watch could accomplish this [discovery] and Congress could not is a mystery, but nevertheless THE reason I continue to contribute monthly to Judicial Watch…they GET results! Thanks to all who worked and are working on ‘cleaning up’ the mess we are in.”

We appreciate the sentiments and, at the same time, want to remind everyone that we cannot do what we do without support from our donors. So our thanks go to them! And to you. If you feel inspired by this latest JW victory to support our efforts, please click here to make a secure online donation.

Judicial Watch Continues to Battle Los Angeles Over Regulation for Illegal Alien Drivers

Want to get a sense of the ridiculous lengths to which leftist lobbyists (led by the ACLU) want to go to coddle illegal alien lawbreakers? Look no further than their support of an unlawful Los Angeles Police Department regulation known as Special Order 7.

Special Order 7 is an LAPD regulation requiring vehicles driven by unlicensed drivers – the vast majority of whom are illegal aliens – to be released instead of impounded for 30-days. Because, well, why shouldn’t an unlicensed illegal alien be granted permission by the police to continue to break the law and threaten public safety? (That’s the twisted reasoning of the Left on this issue.)

Well, JW filed a taxpayer lawsuit challenging this nonsensical and dangerous regulation and achieved a major victory when the California Superior court ruled in August 2013 that Special Order 7 violated the California Constitution and the California Vehicle Code.

As you might expect, however, this ruling did not sit well with the ACLU. After an intense lobbying campaign by the ACLU and its allies in the illegal alien community, the City of Los Angeles appealed. This week, we filed our answer.

As we point out, under Section 14602.6 of the California Vehicle Code, officers are given the discretion to arrest a driver and impound his or her vehicle for 30 days if the driver has never been issued a license or is driving on a suspended or revoked license.

Under Section 14607.6, officers are required to impound a vehicle if a driver is unlicensed or driving on a suspended or revoked license and has a history of unlawful driving. Special Order 7 “has re-written laws enacted by the Legislature,” according to Judicial Watch’s answer brief, making the LAPD regulation “unlawful, ultra vires, and void.”

Specifically, Judicial Watch’s “Combined Answer Brief,” filed on behalf of Los Angeles resident and taxpayer Harold Sturgeon, makes the following key arguments:

Special Order No. 7 Is Preempted by The Vehicle Code.

The California Constitution declares that “[a] county or city may make and enforce within its limits all local, police, sanitary, and other ordinances or regulations not in conflict with general laws … If an otherwise valid local regulation conflicts with state law, it is preempted by the state law and is void …

The City admitted that Special Order No. 7 regulates matters already covered by Sections 14602.6 and 14607.6 in the very first sentence of its unsuccessful demurrer to Sturgeon’s Complaint:

Both LAPD Special Order [N]o. 7 and California Vehicle Code section[s] 14602.6 and 14607.6 regulate the release of a vehicle to its registered owner when the vehicle has been seized because it was driven by someone not in possession of a valid driver’s license.

Special Order No. 7 Is Not Guidance.

The primary argument raised by the City and Interveners in defense of Special Order No. 7 is that the City’s regulation is only guidance and municipalities must be allowed to provide guidance to their police officers … The lower court agreed that Special Order No. 7 is not mere guidance, “But this Special Order 7 is much more than just guidance. It’s much more than just training. It actually changes. It changes the law. It changes the outcome” … In the words of the lower court, Special Order No. 7 is a “game changer” … No. 7 does not guide officers in the exercise of their discretion; it re-writes the law.

We are not alone in this battle. The City’s police union, the Los Angeles Police Protection League, also filed a lawsuit challenging Special Order 7.

Again, advocates for illegal aliens represented by the ACLU intervened on the side of the City to help defend the LAPD regulation. In October 2013, a panel of three justices from the California Court of Appeals granted the City of Los Angeles a temporary stay that allows the LAPD to continue to follow Special Order 7 while the case works its way through the appeals process.

We’ve made our position clear. We believe the Appeals Court should uphold the Superior Court’s decision and protect and defend California’s Constitution against LAPD regulation. Special Order 7 is illegal and dangerous. Unlicensed drivers – whether they are illegal aliens or not – are a menace to public safety. Los Angeles should not put immigration politics above the public safety.

The LAPD has a history of supporting illegal alien sanctuary policies that put the city’s citizens at risk.

Judicial Watch previously sued the LAPD over Special Order 40, a regulation that prohibits police officers from initiating “police action with the objective of discovering the alien status of a person.” Despite an obvious conflict with federal law, California state courts refused to let the challenge against Special Order 40 proceed to trial.  I will be sure to let you know how this new appellate court battle turns out.

Judicial Watch’s Robert Popper’s Editorial “Political Fraud about Voter Fraud,” Published in The Wall Street Journal

One can’t be delicate about this: President Obama and his leftist allies want to be able to steal elections. That’s why they vociferously oppose common-sense election integrity measures such as requiring a photo id (let alone any proof of identity) to vote.

Judicial Watch, as you know, is a leader in countering this assault on clean and fair elections, launching a national fight for election integrity measures.  We’ve achieved some major successes along the way. (See our historic victory with True the Vote in Ohio as just one example.)

We’ve also added some firepower to our election integrity team by bringing Senior Attorney Robert D. Popper on board at JW. Robert previously served as the Deputy Chief of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Robert knows first-hand the schemes used by leftists to undermine election integrity, including the effort to manipulate the American people to believe that voter fraud is a product of partisan fantasy. This week he penned an outstanding opinion editorial, entitled “Political Fraud about Voter Fraud,” which was published in The Wall Street Journal, which is one of the preeminent platforms in the nation.  The editorial pushes back against President Obama’s use of faulty data and misleading arguments about election integrity measures:

In an April 11 speech to Al Sharpton‘s National Action Network, President Obama recited statistics purporting to show that voter fraud was extremely rare. The “real voter fraud,” he said, “is people who try to deny our rights by making bogus arguments about voter fraud.”

These arguments themselves are bogus

Robert goes on to take apart the faulty statistics that President Obama used to discount concerns about voter fraud, while also showing that voter fraud in under-reported:

More generally, judging voter fraud by counting criminal proceedings is misguided. For any crime, convictions are a fraction of prosecutions, which are a fraction of investigations, which are a fraction of known offenses, which are, in turn, a fraction of committed crimes. This is even more likely to be true of voter fraud, which is often a low enforcement priority… many states do not even track it. Moreover, the fraud may be all but impossible to investigate or prove if it is carried out successfully.

Robert’s opinion editorial can be read in its entirety here. And if you want to read more about Judicial Watch’s Election Integrity Campaign, click here.

Until next week…

Tom FittonTom Fitton, President

 Judicial Watch, Inc., a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law. Through its educational endeavors, Judicial Watch advocates high standards of ethics and morality in our nation's public life and seeks to ensure that political and judicial officials do not abuse the powers entrusted to them by the American people. Judicial Watch fulfills its educational mission through litigation, investigations, and public outreach.

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