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May 27, 2017

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Republicans slam Obama over Benghazi attack spin

WASHINGTON--Republican lawmakers compared U.S. President Barack Obama's inner circle to the secretive Nixon administration Thursday, denouncing the White House's response to the 2012 attack on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.

The Obama administration aggressively shot back, accusing congressional adversaries of seeking to "politicize a tragedy" and insisting it acted in good faith in providing documents to lawmakers.

The controversy resurfaced after a conservative group on Wednesday published a White House email it had obtained via a legal challenge and which critics say shows an attempt to put a political spin on the deadly assault.

In the email, Obama's deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes tells Susan Rice — then the U.S. envoy to the United Nations — to blame the attack on local anger in Benghazi over an anti-Muslim Internet video.

It has since become clear that the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the mission — which cost the lives of four Americans, including ambassador Chris Stevens — was planned by armed militants.

In the email, obtained by Judicial Watch and dated Sept. 14, 2012, Rhodes laid out talking points and goals for Rice in her planned appearances on several U.S. talk shows the next day.

She was asked "to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, not a broader failure of policy."

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday after the Rhodes email was first made public that it referred to protests in the Arab world as a whole, and not specifically to the Benghazi attack.

But the attack and Rice's media appearances took place at the height of Obama's successful re-election campaign, in which he made great play of having put al-Qaida on the back foot.

Republicans accuse the White House of trying to cover-up the organized nature of the attack, carried out by Libyan Islamist extremists with suspected al-Qaida ties or sympathies.

The administration, in part through Rice's early public statements, said the attack was provoked by the video. But this version of events was quickly proven false.

Congress launched hearings and thousands of documents were turned over, but the Rhodes email had not been revealed, despite requests from the House of Representatives.

"It is disturbing and perhaps criminal that these documents, that documents like these were hidden by the Obama administration," said Representative Darrell Issa, who chairs a House commission charged with overseeing and auditing the White House.

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