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CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson Also Presented Invented Benghazi Emails As Authentic

Because his reporting elevated the Benghazi talking points story to the top of the news cycle, ABC News’ Jonathan Karl has taken a lot of heat, from media watchdogs Media Matters and in these pages, for explicitly claiming that he had obtained emails that he had never actually seen. However, CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson also presented a set of email “summaries” as authentic emails, but stopped short of explicitly claiming that she had “obtained,” “reviewed,” or ha otherwise actually seen the real emails, emails which reveal that the “summaries” provided to her by Republicans contained invented quotes and significant omissions.

In reporting on her versions of the Benghazi talking points email chain, Attkisson studiously avoided attributing the emails to anyone at all:

CBS News has learned there was a flurry of approximately 100 interagency government emails on Sept. 14 and Sept. 15 regarding the content of the talking points to be released to members of Congress regarding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others in Benghazi. The email list included officials from the White House, State Department, CIA, FBI and others reviewing the talking points.

Technically, at this point, Attkisson has only reported on the existence of the emails, but then goes on to list a timeline of revisions to the Benghazi talking points, and the emails in that email chain, and identifies each email as an “email.” For example:

7:39 p.m. email: State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed the most sweeping concerns. “I have serious concerns about all parts highlighted below in arming members of Congress with information to start making assertions to the media that we ourselves are not making because we don’t want to prejudice the investigation… Why do we want the Hill to be fingering [al-Qaeda linked] Ansar al-Sharia when we aren’t doing that ourselves until we have investigation results? 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?”

Attkisson identifies this as an email, not a summary, and doesn’t offer any additional attribution. The reader is left to conclude that, regardless of the source and/or manner of transmission, the quote being offered is a direct quote from an actual email. As CBS News’ Major Garrett pointed out on Thursday night, the actual email said “the penultimate point could be abused by Members to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings.”

Here’s Attkisson’s version of the White House email that Jake Tapper obtained Tuesday, the same one that Jon Karl falsely presented as authentic:

9:34 p.m. email: Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Adviser to President Obama regarding a federal agency Deputies meeting that’s been called the next morning to discuss the talking points: “…we don’t want to undermine the investigation…we want to address every department’s equities including the State Department, so we’ll deal with this at the Deputies meeting.”

Again, this is labeled as an “email,” and again, no other attribution or provenance are provided. Major Garrett also pointed out, last night , that “in the actual e-mail Rhodes did not mention the State Department. It read ‘We need to resolve this in a way that respects all the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.’”

There are other significant differences between Attkisson’s emails and the real ones, and nowhere does she ever reveal that these are not emails, and by presenting direct quotes from them, she is affirmatively representing that they are.

It would have been a simple thing for Attkisson to attribute these email summaries properly, as she did other quotes in her report. For example:

A senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the drafting of the talking points tells CBS News: “The changes don’t reflect a turf battle. They were attempts to find the appropriate level of detail for unclassified, preliminary talking points that could be used by members of Congress to address a fluid situation.”

In her reporting outside the email/revision timeline, Attkisson attributes other quotes to these sources: “a senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the drafting of the talking points,” “A senior administration official,” “another administration (official),” and “an administration official with knowledge of Nuland’s role,” none of whom are identified as the source of the emails, which were actually not emails, and none of whom could have been the source of the email summaries, since CBS has since reported that the source was “Republicans on Capitol Hill.”

More important than the missing attribution, though, is Attkison’s failure to disclose that these were not the actual emails, as she had clearly labeled them.

Asked about Attkisson’s attribution and sourcing on this report, CBS News Spokesperson Sonya McNair responded, in an actual email that I have, “Sharyl has impeccable sources and her reporting on this subject speaks for itself.”

Here are the Republican-leaked email summaries that Sharyl Attkisson reported as emails, and the text of the corresponding actual emails:

Attkisson:

In a 6:52 p.m. email: John Brennan, then-Deputy National Security Advisor (now head of CIA) asked for removal of “the crowd almost certainly was a mix of individuals from across many sectors of Libya society.”

Actual:

At 6:52 pm, NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor emails “John’s edits are below. Mostly in bullet 2.”

Attkisson:

7:39 p.m. email: State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed the most sweeping concerns. “I have serious concerns about all parts highlighted below in arming members of Congress with information to start making assertions to the media that we ourselves are not making because we don’t want to prejudice the investigation… Why do we want the Hill to be fingering [al-Qaeda linked] Ansar al-Sharia when we aren’t doing that ourselves until we have investigation results? 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?”

Actual:

I just had a convo with (CIA Office of Public Affairs), and I now understand that these are being prepared to give to Members of Congress to use with the media.

On that basis, I have serious concerns about all the parts highlighted below, and arming members of Congress to start making assertions to the media that we ourselves are not making because we don’t want to prejudice the investigation.

In the same vein, why do we want Hill to be fingering Ansar al Sharia, when we aren’t doing that ourselves until we have investigation results… and the penultimate point could be abused by Members to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings so why do we want to feed that either? Concerned…

Attkisson:

8:59 p.m. email: A facilitator of the email threads answers Nuland’s concerns about “prejudicing the investigation” by stating “The FBI did not have major concerns with the points and offered only a couple of minor suggestions.” Nonetheless, they remove a paragraph referring to Ansar al-Sharia from the next version.

Actual:

8:59 pm – The CIA Office of Public Affairs emails: “Toria (Victoria Nuland):

We further discussed the HSPCI talking points with your comments and concerns in mind.

The FBI did not have major concerns with the points and offered only a couple of minor suggestions.

Here’s the latest version of the point. Please let us know your thoughts ASAP.”

Subsequently, at 9:19 pm, the FBI press officer emailed “Just a question – but separate from FBI concerns, has DOJ, provided input? They will have to deal with the the(sic) prosecution and related legal matters surrounding the federal investigation.”

Attkisson:

9:24 p.m. email: Nuland responds: “These don’t resolve all of my issues or those of my building leadership. They are consulting with NSS [National Security Staff.]”

Actual:

Nuland: “These don’t resolve all of my issues or those of my building leadership. They are consulting w NSS”

Attkisson:

9:25 p.m. email: Jake Sullivan, then-Secretary of State Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff (now National Security Advisor for Vice President Biden) tells the group “I spoke with Tommy (Vietor-then-spokesman for the White House National Security Council)… we’ll work this through in the morning.”

Actual:

Sullivan: “I spoke with Tommy. We’ll work through this in the morning and get comments back.”

Then-NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor adds, at 9:26 pm, “Given the DoJ equities, and State’s desire to run some traps, safe to assume we can hold on this until tomorrow?”

Attkisson:

9:32 p.m. email: Sullivan to Nuland: “Talked to Tommy (Vietor). We can make edits.”

Actual:

Sullivan to Nuland: “Talked to Tommy – we can make edits.”

Attkisson:

9:34 p.m. email: Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Adviser to President Obama regarding a federal agency Deputies meeting that’s been called the next morning to discuss the talking points: “…we don’t want to undermine the investigation…we want to address every department’s equities including the State Department, so we’ll deal with this at the Deputies meeting.”

Actual:

All –

Sorry to be late to this discussion. We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.

There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don’t compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.

We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies.

 

Attkisson:

The CIA’s legislative affairs representatives loops in then-CIA chief David Petraeus, notifying him of “major coordination problems… State has major concerns… the Bureau [FBI] cleared the points but [Ben] Rhodes said they will be reviewed in the Deputies meeting.”

Actual:

9:52 draft letter to David Petraeus: “Sir – we’ve tried to work the draft talking points for HPSCI through the coordination process but have run into major problems. Perhaps as a result of the afternoon teleconference, a number of agencies have been looped in. The White House cleared quickly, but State has major concerns. The Bureau cleared with a few comments but asked that Justice, which would handle any criminal prosecution, be brought in. It is evident that will not happen tonight, and Ben Rhodes has asked that this issue be reviewed tomorrow morning at the Deputies’ meeting.

Additionally, eric Schmitt of the NYT contacted us to let us know that he had spoken with Rep. Ruppersberger, who had given him a readout of your session.

Attkisson:

2:27 p.m. email: Petraeus answers that he doesn’t like the talking points and he would “just assume they not use them… This is not what [Rep.] Ruppersberger asked for. We couldn’t even mention the Cairo warning. But it’s their call.” Ruppersberger is the lead Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and had asked for talking points.

Actual:

Sat. 12:51 pm David Petraeus to CIA recipients: “No mention of the cable to Cairo, either? Frankly, I’d just as soon no use this, then… NSS’s call, to be sure; however, this is certainly not what Vice Chairman Ruppersberger was hoping to get for unclas use. Regardless, thx for the great work -“

Attkisson:

Meantime, a U.N. official informs U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice in an email: “The first draft of the talking points apparently seemed unsuitable based on the [deputy’s meeting] because they implied the CIA warned about specific attacks… [at the deputy’s meeting] Mike Morell [deputy CIA director] noted the points would be edited and he would be happy to work with [State Department Deputy Chief of Staff] Jake Sullivan and [Ben] Rhodes. [Denis] McDonough [then-Deputy National Security Advisor to Obama, now White House Chief of Staff] , on Rhodes’ behalf, deferred to Sullivan. Jake [Sullivan] would work with the [intelligence community] to finalize the points that could be shared with [the House Intelligence Committee]. I spoke with Jake immediately after the [deputy’s meeting] and noted you are doing the Sunday shows and needed to be aware of the final posture that these points took. He committed to ensure we were updated in advance of the Sunday shows.”

Actual:

From USUN (United States Mission to the United Nations) to Amb. Susan Rice at 1:23 pm: “HPSCI request: Late this wek, CIA Director Petraeus gave the HPSCI a “hot spots” briefing and was asked for unclassified talking points that its members could ue about the incident in Benghazi. (Apparently, NCTC Director Matt Olson received a similar committee from a congressional committee.) The first draft apparently seemed unsuitable (based on conversations on the SVTS and afterwards) because they seemed to encourage the reader to infer incorrectly that the CIA had warned about a specific attack on our embassy. On the SVTS, Morrell noted that these points were not good and he had taken a very heay editing hand to them. He noted that he would be happy to work with Jake Sullivan and Rhodes to develop appropriate talking points. McDonough, on Rhodes’ behalf, deferred to Sullivan. It was agreed that Jake would work closely with the intelligence community (within a small group) to finalize points on Saturday that could be shared with HPSCI. I spoke to Jake immediately after the SVTS and noted that you were doing the Sunday morning shows and would need to be aware of the final posture that these points took. He committed to ensure that we were updated in advance of the Sunday shows. I specifically mentioned USUN as the one coordinating your preparations for the shows and also encouraged him to loop in USUN during the process.

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