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 subject line of the e-mail, which was sent at 9:11 p.m. Eastern Time on the night of the attack, is “Update on Response to actions – Libya.” The e-mail was written hours before the attack was over.
Issa has asked the White House to declassify and release the document. In the meantime he has inserted a sentence from the e-mail in the Congressional Record.
“White House is reaching out to U-Tube [sic] to advice ramification of the posting of the Pastor Jon video,” the e-mail reads, according to Issa.
Asked about the document, a senior White House official told ABC News it demonstrates that the White House genuinely believed the video sparked the attack all along, a belief that turned out to be incorrect.
“We actually think this proves what we’ve said. We were concerned about the video, given all the protests in region,” the official said. And the intelligence community “was also concerned about the video.”
Issa has an entirely different view. He contends the document contradicts the White House assertion that it was the CIA who first pinned blame for the attack on protests in response to the anti-Islamic video.
“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.
Issa is calling on the White House to release an unclassified version of the document.
“While the information I have cited from this e-mail is clearly unclassified, the State Department has attempted to obstruct its disclosure by not providing Congress with an unclassified copy of this document,” Issa said.
Another State Department document, this one labeled “sensitive but unclassified” and dated Sept. 12, also refers both to the video and to a group linked to al Qaeda in explaining the cause of the attack.
“At least 20 armed extremists, members of Ansar al-Sharia, set fire to the Principal’s office, allegedly retaliating for videos posted on the internet of a film deemed insulting to Islam,” the memo reads, providing an early State Department summary of what happened.