By Justin Sink
White House press secretary Jay Carney criticized the media and congressional Republicans for attempting to spin conspiracy theories about the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, after a second consecutive day of questioning over recently revealed internal emails.
Carney accused Republicans of an effort "to claim a conspiracy when they haven't been able to find one" and said that members of the GOP had sought "to politicize a tragedy."
On Wednesday, Carney was peppered with questions over a set of documents obtained by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request.
That included an email from deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes to other senior White House and administration officials outlining “goals” for then-United Nations ambassador Susan Rice’s Sunday talk show appearances following the attack.
In the email, Rhodes said Rice should “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has called the email a "smoking gun" proving that the White House deliberately worked to create a political narrative "at odds with the facts."
But Carney insisted the email was intended to brief Rice only on the broader unrest in the region, and not explicitly in reference to the terror attack in Benghazi. Republicans have criticized Rice for linking the violence to protests, when the administration later acknowledged it was pre-planned.
Carney's assertion drew a flood of questions from reporters, and the Republican National Committee posted the testy exchange to their website to hit the White House.
The press secretary opened his briefing Thursday with a tacit acknowledgment of Wednesday's most passionate back-and-forth, an 8-minute exchange with ABC News White House correspondent Jonathan Karl.
"Jon, are you ready?" Carney said with a grin at the top of his briefing.
Indeed, the daily press conference was again dominated by inquiries over the email. And again, the exchanges betrayed the White House spokesman's frustration with the line of questioning.
Carney reminded reporters that a year ago, some were burned when House Republican sources were "feeding false information" about what was in internal administration emails outlining how to publicly discuss the attack.
"They were lied to by folks on Capitol Hill," Carney said, deriding "bogus partisan claims made by Republicans to reporters about what had happened."
Later, he told Fox News's Ed Henry that the email reinforced controversial talking points linking the attack in Benghazi to protests, "much to your disappointment and your boss's disappointment, turned out to be produced by the CIA."
"[The Rhodes email] doesn't change the fundamental facts about the so-called talking points, which despite great efforts by your news organization and others, have been, you know proven not be a conspiracy," Carney told Henry.
The press secretary also noted networks had "went hard" with unproven conspiracy theories about the attacks, including that a "stand down" order had been given by someone in the administration.
At the same time, Carney acknowledged it was reasonable that individuals could be confused about the extent of the White House's involvement in the issue.
"Sure, all right?" Carney said.
Still, he insisted that critics of the White House were making political hay out of an email that revealed nothing new.
"As is the case when we prepare for appearances on television or briefings like this, you try to anticipate questions and criticisms or charges, and I think that the general thing is that the Muslim world is in protest over U.S. policy," Carney said. "What this point makes is that these protests are -- outside of our embassy in Cairo, in Tunis, Khartoum and elsewhere were about fury over an Internet video. That was what your news organizations were reporting, that was what we understood to be true, and that was simply the point that was being made by Mr. Rhodes."
Still, the controversy could continue to provide a political headache for the White House. Earlier Thursday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) accused the White House of being solely responsible for suggesting the Benghazi attack was rooted in protests over the anti-Islam video.
“The military, the CIA, the CIA station chief, the State Department; all of them, the facts at the time, Mr. Chairman, the facts do not point to a video,” Chaffetz said. “That only comes from the White House.”