Republicans wanted a do-over on Benghazi. They got it, but lost the second time around. Now President Obama is making Susan Rice his national security adviser, even though what she said on five Sunday talk shows about the cause of the attack on an American diplomatic outpost in Libya has been the focus of Republican scrutiny for almost nine months. Obama "was embittered by the attacks against Rice to an extent unmatched by nearly any other episode in his fight-filled presidency," Politico's Glenn Thrush says. Picking Rice is a "defiant gesture to Republicans," The New York Times' Mark Landler writes. It also seems to indicate that the White House thinks Benghazi is kind of over.
As we've noted before, what happened the night of last September 11 is a horrible tragedy, and we still don't know who attacked the American consulate and CIA annex. But the Benghazi controversy isn't about that very interesting story. It's about the very boring story of whether Obama played politics after the attack. Of course he did! He is a politician. Mitt Romney tried to play politics with Benghazi, too. Romney tried to nail Obama for not calling it a terror attack, and failed in a dramatic debate moment. The first Benghazi round went to Obama.
Naturally, the GOP wanted a second chance. And they got one! The moment Benghazi reached peak mainstream credibility was in early May, when ABC News reported it had "obtained" emails showing 12 revisions to the Benghazi talking points that seemed intended to protect the State Department. The Republican theory — that the White House intentionally lied about what happened to help Obama's reelection and protect Hillary Clinton — suddenly appeared to have actual substance.
But ABC's emails were not the real emails; they were summaries that subtly changed their meaning. The summaries quoted deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes saying "the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department." Rhodes' real email said they should respect "all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation." This summary, in particular, is quite close to a claim House Republicans had made about Benghazi in April, which concluded that Rice "was informed that the talking points were created for Congressional members, and modified to protect State Department equities and the FBI investigation." The House report didn't get much attention. The ABC News report got a ton of attention, because the summaries were put in quotation marks. But then the White House released the true emails, making clear the ABC emails were merely Republican interpretations. The Benghazi controversy fizzled. So the story that made Benghazi a real mainstream issue is also the one that killed it. With today's appointment — to be announced at the White House at 2:15 p.m. — Obama says he thinks he won round two on Benghazi.
That's not to say Benghazi will go away completely. The Republican National Committee issued a press release last week saying it was filing a Freedom of Information Act request for any emails about Benghazi between the State Department and the Obama campaign. The RNC acknowledged it had no evidence these emails exist. The Breitbart News headline on Rice's appointment was "'LIAR' REPLACES 'LEAKER': DONILON TO RESIGN, RICE TO TAKE OVER AS NSA ADVISOR." The Drudge Report said Obama was "DOUBLING DOWN" on Rice, and linked to her Benghazi talk show appearances. Benghazi is still a huge issue on the right. But it'll probably stay there.
Top photo: President Obama with Rice on the campaign trail in Iowa in 2007. (AP) Top right: Obama and Rice at the United Nations in 2011. (Reuters) Middle left: Obama in the Oval Office. (Pete Souza/White House)