Jay Carney aggressively defended the Obama administration’s handling of the Benghazi attacks and the revision of CIA talking points Friday in an uncharacteristically hostile White House press briefing. But in his attempts to protect himself and his administration colleagues, Carney offered a series of highly misleading answers that seem likely to do additional damage to his cause and White House credibility.
In response to a question about why he and others at the White House repeatedly pointed to a YouTube video as the cause of the attacks in Benghazi, Carney claimed that he was working from the same talking points as U.N. ambassador Susan Rice. But the video was not mentioned in any of the dozen drafts of talking points.
Carney also claimed that Rice devoted some of her time on five Sunday shows September 16 talking “about the possibility that al Qaeda might be involved or other al Qaeda affiliates might be involved or non-al Qaeda Libyan extremists.” But as BuzzFeed notes, that’s not really true. “Outside of a brief mention on CBS’s Face the Nation, Rice mostly did not discuss the involvement of al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliates.”
Carney claimed that there was no hard evidence before Susan Rice’s television appearances on September 16 that terrorists linked to al Qaeda were involved in the attacks. That’s simply not true. Beth Jones, acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs at the State Department, sent an email on September 12 reporting “the group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al Sharia, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists.” Within 48 hours, the U.S. government had multiple streams of intelligence indicating that Ansar al Sharia was involved. The CIA station chief in Libya cabled back to Washington late on September 12 and reported that eyewitnesses said militants with ties to al Qaeda were involved in the attack. And the NSA had intercepted communications between two al Qaeda-linked jihadists in which one reported to the other that he’d participated in the attack. Before the end of the week, the U.S. government had gotten further confirmation of the involvement of militants with ties to al Qaeda directly from Libyan government officials.
Carney claimed that Ansar al Sharia “withdrew” claims of responsibility for the attacks in Benghazi. But their actual statement was “neither a full denial nor a full claim of responsibility,” according to Long War Journal’s Bill Roggio. The statement said only that “Ansar al Sharia brigade didn’t participate in this popular uprising as a separate entity” and later “the Brigade didn’t participate as a sole entity.”
In response to a question about the scrubbing of the CIA talking points for references to al Qaeda and Ansar al Sharia, Carney reiterated his claim that the White House only made “one change” to CIA talking points. That may be literally true, but it’s highly misleading. According to internal Obama administration documents and emails, other senior Obama officials suggested deep and substantive revisions to the talking points. When a reporter asked whether the White House had a role “not just in making but directing the changes,” Carney dodged.
But the most basic question went unasked: Why would the CIA rewrite talking points it had already finalized?