Fox News hosts falsely suggested former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lied in her upcoming book about the CIA's involvement in the development of talking points used by the Obama administration to discuss the September 2012 Benghazi attacks.
In the days immediately following the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and other members of the administration described the assault as developing from spontaneous protests against an anti-Islam video that had been posted on YouTube, which had inspired riots across the Muslim world. That conclusion was largely consistent with the analysis of the intelligence community at the time. But because it was later revealed that there was no protest in Benghazi, conservatives led by Fox News have since claimed the Obama administration engaged in a deliberate effort to deceive the American people about the cause of the attacks.
Politico reported on a chapter of Clinton's memoir, Hard Choices, in which she criticized Republican efforts to politically exploit the Benghazi attacks. Clinton also defended Rice's description of the attacks, noting that she had been using talking points derived by the intelligence community. From the May 30 Politico article:
She defends then-Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice for describing the Benghazi attack as a "copycat' of the video-spurred Cairo protests when she appeared on Sunday TV shows days later. Rice, Clinton writes, was relying on existing intelligence. The talking points she used were written to help members of Congress address the attacks, and the information began with and was signed off on by CIA officials. Intelligence officials didn't know Rice would use them, Clinton writes.
The talking points have been a focus of Republican critics, who insist they stemmed from the White House as an effort to control a politically sensitive issue -- a terrorist attack on the eve of Obama's reelection.
On the May 30 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy responded to the article by criticizing Clinton for "doubl[ing] down on saying it was a video" that motivated the attack. During a discussion with Fox's Geraldo Rivera, co-host Brian Kilmeade disputed Clinton's explanation that the CIA played a role in developing the talking point narrative stating, "specifically she says the CIA signed off on Susan Rice's talking points, when we have the deputy director [...] on the record saying I knew nothing about a video."
But initial intelligence did, in fact, suggest that the inflammatory anti-Muslim YouTube video may have been linked to the attacks.
The talking points Rice used, which were developed and approved by the CIA, linked the Benghazi attack to protests in Cairo, which erupted in response to the inflammatory video. As Slate's John Dickerson has explained:
The very first line of the first CIA talking point reads: "The currently available information suggests that the attacks in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US Consulate and subsequently its annex.
What was causing the protests in Cairo that the CIA mentions? The video.
And while former CIA deputy director Mike Morell testified to the House Intelligence Committee on April 2 that the YouTube video was "not something that the analysts have attributed this attack to," he also pointed out that the CIA's chief of station in Libya initially believed the video could have been a contributing factor to the attack. From the questioning of Morell during the April 2 hearing (emphasis added):
REP. JEFF MILLER (R-FL): She went out and she said it was solely because of the YouTube video, and later we learned that, no, it was more an attack than it was about the YouTube video, and there was never an attempt to correct the record.
MORELL: Well, sir, there's a difference between what it was, which was a terrorist attack, and what motivated it. Those are two completely different things. No doubt it was a terrorist attack. To this day, we still don't know the motivations of the people who conducted the attack because we haven't caught any of them.
The analysts have views about what motivated the attack. The analysts' view is that it was one of two things. It was what happened in Cairo, that these guys in Benghazi saw what happened in Cairo and wanted to do the same thing. The other possibility that the analysts see is the revenge for the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi. That's what the analysts think. We just heard from Congressman Schiff that the chief of station sees three possibilities: 9/11 anniversary, revenge for Abu Yahya al-Libi and the video. So the chief of station thinks that the video may have been motivation for the attack in Benghazi.
Evidence continues to point to the anti-Islam video playing a role in the attack. In January, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found:
It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attacks or whether extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. Some intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day's violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video, suggesting that these and other terrorist groups could conduct similar attacks with little advance warning.
In December, The New York Times reported that they had a reporter on the scene during the attack who "learned of the film from the fighters" assaulting the diplomatic facility.