WASHINGTON - The White House on Wednesday dismissed allegations by Republicans that newly released e-mails prove the administration's response to the 2012 attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, was politically calculated.
Republicans say the e-mails released Tuesday by a conservative watchdog group are the long-sought-after "smoking gun" that show the administration tried to spin the tragedy to minimize damage to President Obama in the final months of his 2012 reelection campaign.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a briefing that the e-mails released Tuesday by Washington-based Judicial Watch weren't about Benghazi specifically but instead referred to a different set of talking points that addressed unrest across the region.
"The e-mail and the talking points were not about Benghazi," Carney said. "They were about the general situation in the Muslim world."
The e-mails were released to Judicial Watch in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed against the State Department. They were not among dozens of e-mails that the White House released last year in an effort to clear itself of allegations that officials had tried to escape blame for the incident.
Judicial Watch president Tom Fitton said the idea that the e-mails are not about Benghazi is "ludicrous" because his organization sued for Benghazi documents specifically.
The attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The following Sunday, Susan Rice, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said on five talk shows that the attack was a "spontaneous reaction" to a protest in Cairo prompted by anger about an anti-Muslim video posted on YouTube, a claim that turned out to be false.
"The best information and the best assessment we have today is that in fact this was not a preplanned, premeditated attack; that what happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video," Rice said on Fox News on Sept. 16, 2012.
Carney said Rice's comments were based on the best information the administration had at the time. He said she was working off of two different sets of talking points.
One, produced by the CIA for lawmakers and White House officials, blamed the attacked on an impromptu demonstration.