It Long Ago Stopped Being About What Matters
Last Friday, Republicans leaked what they claimed were exact quotes from administration emails showing the alteration of talking points. The emails appeared to be somewhat damning, suggesting that “the changes suggest administration officials were interested in sparing the State Department from political criticism in the wake of the attack.”
One email leaked by Republicans, from Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Adviser to President Obama, read thus:
We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation.
The problem? He didn’t write that. The administration released the actual emails today. In the email quoted above, the genuine quote is:
We need to resolve this in a way that respects all the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.
Just a wee bit different, wouldn’t you say?
Turns out that CBS, which received the leaked emails and reported them on May 10, were none too pleased at having been lied to. Their original report did not specify where they had gotten the emails.
This is a common game in D.C.: partisan players leak info damaging to the other side, but demand anonymity so that it won’t look like a partisan attack. The news agency reports the information without naming the biased source, thus presenting the appearance that the information is more trustworthy and not part of a political attack.
Except in this case, the release included intentionally faked information to make the administration look bad—meaning that Republicans hoodwinked CBS into making a false political smear against the administration.
So today, they not only noted the altered emails, they also revealed their source as having been Republicans.
Another alteration, this one of an email purportedly written by State Department Spokesman Victoria Nuland, read:
…and the penultimate point is a paragraph talking about all the previous warnings provided by the Agency [CIA] about al-Qaeda’s presence and activities of al-Qaeda…[which] could be abused by members of Congress to fault the State Department for not paying attention… so why would we want to cede that, either?
The actual email:
…and the penultimate point could be abused by Members to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings, so why would we want to cede that, either?
The main point that Republicans are making is that the Obama administration altered information given to the public for political purposes. Which is exactly what the Republicans did here.
You might wonder, “Why is this at all important? The changes don’t seem too great, and it’s not as big an impact as the government misinforming the people in the midst of a presidential election.”
The answer is that, in the case of the administration reports before the election, it is virtually impossible that different reporting by the administration could have altered the election. After all, Republicans were making great hay about Benghazi in the final weeks of the election; had there been 100% perfect transmission of information from the administration from Day One, there would have been far less damage to the administration—and yet, despite the greater damage, Obama still won handily. In short, the impact of the claimed distortions was petty, at best.
On the other hand, Republicans would clearly love to impeach Obama over this controversy; failing that, they wish to damage Obama at least to the degree of derailing his political agenda and bringing even more gridlock and delay to government policies intended to repair the economy and fix the problems we face. In which case, faked information could have a substantially significant impact.
In the end, however, this entire affair comes down to nothing more than sordid and contemptible political game-playing—which means that facts have little impact on what will happen. It’s has moved from a matter of saying and doing things with meaning, to a reprehensible game of creating and fighting back against absurd partisan narratives.
We no longer have a functioning government. But then, that is hardly news.
UPDATE: New Headline!
The accusation against Mrs. Clinton drew a strong response from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.—S. Carolina): “There’s been a concerted effort by Hillary Clinton to cover up her role in President Lincoln’s murder. She has said nothing about it. This is bigger than Watergate, the Cuban missile crisis, and the Second World War put together.”