Either Darrell Issa is so miffed at Republican leaders for yanking the Benghazi investigation out from under him that he's intentionally undermining the new House Select Committee, or he just vindicated those who believe he wasn't up to the task. Either way he just blew a hole in one big piece of the conspiracy theory.
A still-classified State Department e-mail says that one of the first responses from the White House to the Benghazi attack was to contact YouTube to warn of the “ramifications” of allowing the posting of an anti-Islamic video, according to Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The memo suggests that even as the attack was still underway—and before the CIA began the process of compiling talking points on its analysis of what happened—the White House believed it was in retaliation for a controversial video.
The White House is thrilled with this revelation because it supports the view that their early citations of the YouTube video were sincere—not intended to whitewash the truth, that American public servants had been victims of a terrorist attack. The claim that this YouTube business was all a big lie is central to the entire convoluted Benghazi conspiracy, and something Select Committee chairman Trey Gowdy has harped upon in the past. Just two weeks ago, Gowdy told Charlie Rose, " I think that Ben Rhodes memo was probably the straw that broke the camel's back because that memo made it really clear that we're going to blame an internet video and not a broader policy failure in Libya.... If you really think it was the video, then site me all the evidence." Issa's leak is the evidence.
That's not how Issa sees it, though.
“The e-mail shows the White House had hurried to settle on a false narrative—one at odds with the conclusions reached by those on the ground—before Americans were even out of harm’s way or the intelligence community had made an impartial examination of available evidence,” Issa said.
Ah…ok. Let's draw out that conspiracy theory in a little more detail, shall we? What follows is a brief, fictitious dialogue between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on the night of September 11, 2012.
Clinton: Bad news Mr. President. Terrorists are attacking our compound in Benghazi.
Obama: Don't say terrorists! Or terrorism. I have an election to win! And you will too, soon.
Clinton: Good point. What should we do then?
Obama: Hmmmmmm…. I know! We'll contact YouTube and tell them that this video is stirring up violent anti-American protests in Libya.
Obama: Don't look at me like that.
Obama: Seriously, though. This plan can't fail. We'll contact YouTube. Then we'll write an internal memo about how we contacted YouTube. And then we can claim we believed it was the YouTube video from the very start.
Clinton: I see. This way we can avoid using the term "terrorist" for a few more days. And then when Republicans start calling us liars, we can leak the memo. Right?
Obama: I am going to classify the memo.
Obama: Then we'll show it to Darrell Issa in a private briefing, and he'll take care of the rest.
Clinton: Now I see why you won that primary!
Hard to imagine Gowdy is super thrilled right now.
This piece has been updated.
Brian Beutler is a senior editor at The New Republic.