This article originally appeared on Slate.
Has the Benghazi "smoking gun" been found? Some White House critics believe that new documents wrestled from the White House by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, prove that the Obama administration concocted a cover-up: Political advisers pushed a false story that the murder of four Americans grew out of a protest against an anti-Islamic video in order to hide a policy failure that might hurt the president in an election year. The documents clearly show that the White House pushed the video story, but there's also proof that the White House believed the story they were pushing.
Were White House officials desperate enough to make up a story? Or were they just embracing and pushing the most politically beneficial version? That is the heart of the matter, but it also raises a larger question about what we call a lie when we look at administration spin: What is willful deceit, what is willful blindness, and what is merely the tunnel vision that comes from constant partisan warfare?
The Obama administration's story has never been straight on the Benghazi attack. Press Secretary Jay Carney once said the White House and State Department had only been involved in changing one word in crafting the first public response about the attack--the infamous Susan Rice talking points. Emails released in May showed that wasn't the case. This new batch underscores the White House's involvement in shaping the story. The Obama administration left the impression that everything related to the Benghazi attack had been released to the investigating committees months ago. That is also clearly false. There have been other instances where the White House line on Benghazi has also earned it Pinocchios.
On the theory that repeated false statements should initiate more questions, it's obvious questions should continue to be asked. Also tantalizing is an email exchange in the current batch related to a Fox News story: "U.S. officials knew Libya attack was terrorism within 24 hours, sources confirm." The article was circulated among dozens of officials, including then-deputy national security adviser and now chief of staff Denis McDonough, but the subsequent email discussions are all redacted. When the Republican National Committee claims that the White House put "politics before transparency," they are right. Still, that doesn't prove that White House political hacks cooked up a story about a video.
The "smoking gun," according to Sen. Lindsey Graham and others, is an email from deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. (Rhodes is the brother to CBS News President David Rhodes; I also work for CBS.) The email shows that the White House was engaged in a coordinated effort to cover the president's backside. That is not necessarily new. They do that every day. Anyone watching Susan Rice talk about Benghazi knew that the White House, with an election just months away, was desperate to frame this event as an extraordinary and unpredictable one, not a policy failure.