The surest sign that there is indeed no there there regarding the Benghazi "scandal"? The fact that anonymous GOP staff feeding information to reporters apparently felt the need to edit the White House emails they were onpassing. It's a bad sign for scandal-mongerers if they feel the need to punch up their supposed evidence.
At issue is the email document trail behind the talking points the administration promulgated in the days after the September 11, 2012 attack at the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Since virtually the first instant of the attack, the GOP has fixated on it as being sort of scandal, with the currently popular iteration suggesting that the initial administration spin was an effort to cover up the fact that terrorist elements were involved in the attacks.
Last week a Republican operative or operatives leaked what were portrayed as quotes from emails – which the White House had not released – which purported to show that the White House and State Department had nefariously pushed to have references to terrorist involvement expunged from the administration's talking points.
But on Wednesday the White House released 100 pages of the emails covering the evolution of the talking points (scroll to the bottom to read them yourself, courtesy of the Huffington Post). Then CBS News' Major Garrett issued a report last night under the headline "WH Benghazi emails have different quotes than earlier reported." Garrett goes on to detail the differences between the leaked GOP versions of the emails and what was actually written.
On Friday, Republicans leaked what they said was a quote from Rhodes: "We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don't want to undermine the FBI investigation."
But it turns out that in the actual email, Rhodes did not mention the State Department.
It read: "We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation."
He goes on to note a similar change in an email then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland sent. The GOP version has her worried about "previous warnings provided by the Agency (CIA) about al-Qaeda's presence and activities of al-Qaeda." But the actual email she sent doesn't mention the terrorist group at all.
As the Huffington Post reports, CBS isn't the first news outlet to note the differences between the real emails and the versions leaked by Republicans:
The news parallels a Tuesday CNN report which initially introduced the contradiction between what was revealed in a White House Benghazi email version, versus what was reported in media outlets. On Monday, Mother Jones noted that the Republicans' interim report included the correct version of the emails, signaling that more malice and less incompetence may have been at play with the alleged alterations.
Of course, there's no reason why malice and incompetence need be competing alternatives. In fact incompetent malice seems likely: This was a ham handed attempt to produce "evidence" of a scandal where there is none.
Mother Jones's Kevin Drum sums up:
This has always been the Republican Party's biggest risk with this stuff: that they don't know when to quit. On Benghazi, when it became obvious that they didn't have a smoking gun, they got desperate and tried to invent one. On the IRS, their problem is that Democrats are as outraged as they are. This will force them to make ever more outrageous accusations in an effort to find some way to draw a contrast. And on the AP phone records, they have to continually dance around the fact that they basically approve of subpoenas like this.
A sane party would take a deep breath and decide to move on to other things. But the tea partiers have the scent of blood now, and it's driving them crazy. Thus the spectacle of Michele Bachmann suggesting today that it's time to start impeachment proceedings.
It's no wonder that GOP leaders are urging their colleagues to throttle back and let the scandals that flared up this week play out before, like Bachmann, calling for impeachment hearings. The real scandal regarding Benghazi, of course, doesn't involve talking points but funding streams. As former diplomat Ronan Farrow writes in the Atlantic:
Hillary Clinton waged a losing fight with Congress for embassy security resources over the course of the first Obama administration. Some of the ringleaders of last week's hearing were among the prominent opponents to that spending, with Representative Chaffetz and Representative Darrell Issa joining to cut nearly half a billion dollars from the State Department security accounts that cover armored vehicles, security systems, and guards. In Fiscal Year 2011, House Republicans cut $128 million from the Obama Administration's requests for embassy security funding; in 2012, they cut another $331 million. Issa once personally voted to cut almost 300 diplomatic security positions. In 2011, after one of many fruitless trips to the Hill to beg House Republicans for resources, an exhausted, prophetic Hillary Clinton warned that cuts to embassy spending "will be detrimental to America's national security." Democrats, like Senator Barbara Boxer in a heated speech this week, have been quick to paint opposition to security funding as exclusively Republican. The truth is, it is a bipartisan failure, repeated through years of both Republican and Democratic control of Congress. In 2010, Democrats cut $142 million from the Administration's requests for State Department funding.
But why would House Republicans – obsessed as they are with their twin goals of getting Obama and Hillary Clinton and cutting spending – pursue an investigation into dangerous spending cuts pushed by Congress and fought by Secretary Clinton?