Politico published inaccurate information about emails between Hillary Clinton and Sidney Blumenthal provided to the outlet by an anonymous source who distorted the emails' contents with the intention of damaging the former secretary of state, according to Democrats on the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
The Republican-led committee was formed more than a year ago with the mandate to investigate the 2012 attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya -- attacks which had already been subject to investigations by the State Department and numerous House and Senate committees. Critics have argued that the committee's actions since its formation demonstrate a “singular focus on attacking Hillary Clinton and her bid for president.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking member of the Committee, writes in a July 6 letter that “a Member of the Committee, a staffer on the Committee, or someone who has been given access to the Committee's documents inaccurately described to the press email exchanges obtained by the Committee in a way that appeared to further a political attack against” Clinton. Cummings describes this as “only the latest in a reckless pattern of selective Republican leaks and mischaracterizations of evidence relating to the Benghazi attacks.”
Cummings' letter specifically details inaccuracies in a June 18 Politico story that relied on “a source who has reviewed the email exchange” between Clinton and Blumenthal, a Media Matters consultant and former Clinton White House aide. In its original version, the story claimed:
While still secretary of state, Clinton emailed back and forth with Blumenthal about efforts by one of the groups, Media Matters, to neutralize criticism of her handling of the deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, sources tell POLITICO.
“Got all this done. Complete refutation on Libya smear,” Blumenthal wrote to Clinton in an Oct. 10, 2012, email into which he had pasted links to four Media Matters posts criticizing Fox News and Republicans for politicizing the Benghazi attacks and challenging claims of lax security around the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, according to a source who has reviewed the email exchange. Blumenthal signed off the email to Clinton by suggesting that one of her top aides, Philippe Reines, “can circulate these links,” according to the source. Clinton responded: “Thanks, I'm pushing to WH,” according to the source.
The emails were not included in documents originally turned over by the State Department.
Cummings notes that Clinton's email reading “Thanks, I'm pushing to WH” came not in response to Blumenthal's email with the Media Matters links, as Politico indicated, but rather in response to a “completely different” Blumenthal email from nine days earlier “forwarding an article from Salon.com reporting that Republicans were planning to claim inaccurately during the presidential debates that the White House had advance knowledge about the Benghazi attacks and failed to act on it.”
The day after publication, Politico updated its story with a correction noting that “A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed a Clinton email as a response to the Blumenthal email.” As MSNBC.com's Steve Benen notes, "Politico obviously didn't make this up; it relied on a source that provided misleading information, apparently with a specific partisan agenda in mind."
Politico was also wrong to report that Clinton's email was “not included in documents originally turned over by the State Department,” according to Cummings. He explained that “that email was turned over to the Select Committee by the State Department on February 13, 2015, marked with Bates number STATE-SCB0045548-SCB0045550. The Select Committee has had that email for four months.”
As both Cummings and Benen point out, this is not the first time reporters have fallen from deceptive Benghazi leaks that appear to come from Republican sources. Reporters who relied on sources' characterizations of Benghazi-related documents rather than reviewing them directly have previously had to issue embarrassing corrections.