A report by CNN’s Jake Tapper has thrown cold water on the frenzy that began when ABC’s Jonathan Karl and the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes reported National Security Council spokesman Ben Rhodes implied in an email that talking points distributed should be edited to provide political cover for the State Department.
There is no evidence that either Karl or Hayes had themselves seen the full email and intentionally chose to edit out the context before reporting on them. Instead, a source, likely a Capitol Hill staffer in either House leadership or a committee office passed on these emails, received as part of a deal to confirm CIA director John Brennan.
This has been a hallmark of the Benghazi scandal for the last eight months – leaks from Republican staffers of cherry-picked information that later emerge to be at best half-truths are reported breathlessly by a conservative, and occasionally mainstream, media. Often it is only weeks later we learn that the information reported was either false or so far removed from context it no longer resembles reality.
Stephen Hayes should be familiar with this technique: a decade ago he used cherry-picked intelligence data, supplied by operatives primarily working for Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, to help the Bush administration justify the war in Iraq
In November 2003 Hayes cited "a top secret U.S. government memorandum" to claim Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden "had an operational relationship." Hayes claimed “evidence is detailed, conclusive, and corroborated by multiple sources."
Hayes’ relationship with government officials was circular. In January 2004 Vice President Dick Cheney cited Hayes’ reporting to echo his claim.
It was more than three year later that Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, to whose office Hayes attributed the memo, corrected the record telling Fox News "nobody in my office said there was an operational relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda."
Feith’s comments were unnecessary, because it had already been reported that the Defense Intelligence Agency “had concluded that a captured al Qaeda commander named Ibn Al Shaykh Al Libi was probably lying when he told debriefers that Saddam Hussein had provided chemical and biological weapons training to the terrorist group.”
DIA reached this conclusion in 2002, yet still the Bush administration continued to leak selective information implying a Saddam-bin Laden link to willing reporters and even more cynically allowed Collin Powell to present as fact cherry-picked intelligence collected from Al Libi to the United Nations.
Similar tactics are at play today, as Darrel Issa’s committee has engaged in a public cherry-picking of the facts surrounding the terrorist attack in Benghazi, previously refusing to allow Ambassador Thomas Pickering to testify about the findings of his investigation because it doesn’t conform to Issa's desired storyline.