WASHINGTON Conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch released emails from U.S. officials on Tuesday that it said showed the White House was concerned primarily with protecting President Barack Obama's image after an attack that killed Americans in Libya.
The attack by militants on Sept. 11, 2012, killed four Americans at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Days later, then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice appeared on television news shows and said the violence resulted from a spontaneous crowd reacting to an inflammatory video rather than the work of Islamic militants.
When Rice's account proved incorrect, Republican lawmakers accused her of trying to protect Obama during his re-election campaign, which the White House disputed. Rice is now Obama's national security adviser.
Judicial Watch sought documents related to the Benghazi attacks through the Freedom of Information Act and obtained them earlier this month. On Tuesday, it pointed to an email from Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, which discussed preparations for Rice's appearances on the shows.
The email lists one goal as being "to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy."
It also emphasizes Obama's leadership and stresses his statesmanlike qualities.
"Now we know the Obama White House’s chief concern about the Benghazi attack was making sure that President Obama looked good,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement on the group's website.
A White House spokeswoman said the email contained "general topline talking points" about the unrest spreading throughout the Middle East at the time.
Rhodes' email also made clear the administration's primary goals involved protecting people in the field and bringing to justice those responsible for the attacks, said Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council.
"Unlike those who insist on politicizing the events in Benghazi, our focus remains on ensuring that a tragedy like this isn’t repeated in Libya or anywhere else in the world," Meehan added.
"In our view, these documents only serve to reinforce what we have long been saying: that in the days after September 11, 2012, we were concerned by unrest occurring across the region and that we provided our best assessment of what was happening at the time."
Last year, the White House released reams of emails related to the controversy that showed the talking points for Rice went through a series of revisions that scrubbed them of references to terror warnings before the deadly attacks.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason. Editing by Andre Grenon)