Fox News contributor and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer pushed new and old falsehoods about the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, by misrepresenting recently-released emails that prove that government agencies drafted talking points without references to terrorism in order to protect the ongoing investigation into the attacks.
In his May 16 Washington Post column, Krauthammer misrepresented emails recently released by the Obama administration -- that document the process of drafting the talking points used by officials to discuss the September 2012 attacks -- to claim the emails revealed that the CIA was forced to change the talking points for political reasons. According to Krauthammer, references to Al Qaeda were removed from the talking points after the State Department raised concerns that the talking points needed to reflect “the political interests, the required political cover, of all involved,” including “the need to protect the president's campaign.” He also dismissed an email from Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, which explained that the talking points in fact needed to protect the investigation into the attacks, claiming this “excuse was simply bogus” because the FBI, “which was conducting the investigation, had no significant objections.”
But the 100 pages of emails reveal that removing information from the talking points that could compromise the investigation was the primary priority of multiple agencies, including the FBI and the CIA. Following the initial emails among CIA officials on September 14, 2012, about whether or not references to al Qaeda should be included in the talking points, CIA General Counsel Stephen W. Preston stressed the need to ensure their work did not conflict with the National Security Section (NSS) of the Department of Justice and the FBI's criminal investigation into the attacks:
Folks, I know there is a hurry to get this out, but we need to hold it long enough to ascertain whether providing it conflicts with express instructions from NSS/DOJ/FBI that, in light of the criminal investigation, we are not to generate statements with assessments as to who did this, etc. -- even internally, not to mention for public release. I am copying [CIA FO] who may be more familiar with those instructibns [sic] and the tasking arising from the HPSCI coffee.
Subsequent emails from the FBI reveal that contrary to Krauthammer's claims, the Bureau did have concerns with the initial CIA draft. A 7:51pm email from the FBI Press Office on September 14 requested a review of two of the talking points with recommended edits:
[CIA OPA] in coordination with CWD, we have some concerns:
1. The accuracy of the sentence of the first bullet point which states “On 10 September we warned of social media reports calling for a demonstration in front of the Embassy and that jihadists were threatening tob break into the Embassy.” And-- who is the “we” that is referenced?
2. We recommend editing the last sentence in the second bullet point to “That being said, there are indications that Islamic extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.”
A later email sent at 9:19pm on September 14 by the FBI Press Office revealed their concern that the Department of Justice be brought in to approve all further changes, because they would also be conducting key aspects of the investigation:
Just a question- but separate from the FBI concerns, has DOJ provided input? They will have to deal with the the prosecution and related legal matters surrounding the federal investigation.
Furthermore, The Washington Post, Krauthammer's own paper, reported more detail from senior administration officials about the email exchange, explaining that both CIA and FBI officials believed references to Ansar al-Sharia, an Al Qaeda affiliate, should be removed from the talking points to protect the investigation:
CIA deputy director Michael Morell later removed the reference to Ansar al-Sharia because the assessment was still classified and because FBI officials believed that making the information public could compromise their investigation, said senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the internal debate.
A senior administration official said Wednesday that the only indication the CIA had at that point that Ansar al-Sharia was involved was a single piece of intelligence, whose existence it did not want to reveal lest its sources and methods be compromised.
The emails confirm what General David Petraeus, then-director of the CIA, reportedly testified to Congress in November: that references to terrorist groups were removed from the talking points in order to avoid tipping off those groups that intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them, and thus preserve the ongoing investigation.
Krauthammer also pushed the debunked claim that Gregory Hicks, deputy chief of staff to the embassy in Tripoli at the time of the attacks, was “ordered not to meet with an investigative congressional delegation” and subsequently got “a furious call from Clinton's top aide for not having a State Department lawyer (and informant) present.” In fact, Hicks' official congressional testimony reveals that the State Department merely instructed him to follow standard procedure and not speak to the congressional investigators without a State attorney present. Furthermore, Hicks made clear that he had received no direct criticism from Cheryl Mills, the chief of staff to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and simply said the “tone of the conversation” led him to believe Mills was unhappy with him.
Krauthammer's false accusations are part of the attempt by conservative media and the GOP to save Republican scandal-mongering on the Benghazi attacks, even as the charges of “scandal” collapse around them.