WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House on Wednesday denied that a staff member's email three days after the deadly attack on the U.S. mission at Benghazi, Libya, was actually about the attack. Critics have branded the electronic missive as evidence that the Obama administration sought to deceive the public about the true circumstances surrounding the deaths of four Americans during the final months of the 2012 presidential campaign.
"It was explicitly not about Benghazi," press secretary Jay Carney told journalists during his daily briefing at the White House. "It was about the overall situation in the region, the Muslim world, where you saw protests outside of embassy facilities across the region, including in Cairo, Sana'a, Khartoum and Tunis."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has called the email a "smoking gun" that "shows political operatives in the White House working to create a political narrative at odds with the facts."
The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans died in the attack on Sept. 11, 2012. Republicans contend that President Barack Obama, eager to claim in an election year that al-Qaida and terrorists in general were on the run, misled Americans by linking the Benghazi attack to protests over an anti-Islamic video when he knew otherwise.
The intelligence community compiled its own talking points for members of Congress that suggested the Benghazi attack stemmed from protests in Cairo and elsewhere over the anti-Islamic video rather than an assault by extremists. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, used those talking points during her appearances on Sunday news shows following the attack. However, the CIA's former deputy director, Mike Morrell, later said he had deleted from the talking points the references to terrorism warnings to avoid showing up the State Department, not for political reasons.