State Dept: Media 'Cherry Picked' Talking Points Emails

State Department Deputy Spokesman Patrick Ventrell on Friday said that he could not clarify emails released by ABC News between Victoria Nuland, the former State Department Spokeswoman, and top administration officials concerning talking points in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attack. When Ventrell was asked about specifics of the email, the Spokesman said that "cherry picking" words could give the wrong impression. Ventrell could not give context to the emails, but instead gave a dizzying answer describing in broad terms how the Spokesmen's department uses email to communicate with other agencies. CNN correspondent Elise Labott pressed Ventrell to release the emails to the general public to provide context. Ventrell dismissed the request saying it was more appropriate for another department.

Transcript:

QUESTION: Just to finish that, to close the loop on the first question --
MR. VENTRELL: Yep.
QUESTION: -- but when Victoria Nuland, in the email – and she said “leadership,” who does that refer to when she was, like, we need changes because of the leadership?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, I can’t speak to every word that’s been cherry-picked from these emails, but I can tell you as a spokesperson myself and the way that we do interagency talking points --
QUESTION: They’re full quotes; they’re not really necessarily words that are cherry-picked. I mean, the emails are out there themselves. I mean, it’s not --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, excerpts of various emails have been taken --
QUESTION: And you feel that – do you feel that if we were able to read the emails in their entirety, they would show some kind of context that we would understand?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, of course, the emails were only one piece of the wider interagency discussion of this. And so when you take them, and snippets of them, it can be taken out of context.
QUESTION: Well, why don’t --
MR. VENTRELL: And let me clarify, Elise. The things that I made clear, and one of the things that doesn’t necessarily come across in the snippets that have been out there, is specifically that we in the Spokesperson’s Office were looking at them as talking points for members of the House at that time. There’s a wider interagency discussion about how they were developed and how the intelligence community makes their assessments. That’s a different question. So --
QUESTION: I mean, does it matter if they were for Ambassador Rice or if they were for Congress? I mean, talking points are pretty much just like your basic knowledge of the situation and how you want to message it, right?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I think that’s part of the point of – in terms of us at the spokesperson’s level, some of the tactical assessments are made about who’s speaking and what’s been said prior, and when we’re preparing to go to the podium after we haven’t been for a weekend, sometimes what’s going to be said out there will affect how we’re going to brief later. So those are the kind of tactical concerns we raise at a Spokesperson’s Office, and when you say you’re raising it up, that means that some of the policy makers are also going to be taking a look at it. I can’t speak in this specific case to the exact context of who’s being referred to, but in general terms, when we as public affairs officers or spokespeople inside of an organization are negotiating online, sometimes we make additional reference to other individuals or other policy makers. So that’s the context that I can provide in general terms about how we operate as press spokespeople. And we very frequently have discussions, whether it’s over email or other format, about what are the – not only the best language to use but the best tactics in terms of explaining what we’re talking about to journalists and to others and to the American people.
QUESTION: You seem to suggest that the emails that – just reading snippets of the emails don’t really fully and accurately describe the concerns that you had. So why not just release the full emails, that the full emails will show that this wasn’t about some kind cover-up?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, first to say on that, Elise, we’ve shared these emails with the Congress --
QUESTION: I know --
MR. VENTRELL: -- but let me finish – and that’s been part of their concern, was to see a number of these documents, which we’ve shared – thousands of documents, indeed, including these. In terms of any redaction that would be necessary in an entire email chain in terms of sensitive or personally identifiable information or other things that go through the standard redaction process to make public release, that’s a separate process that goes through the lawyers and I can’t speak to that on an individual document. But suffice it to say, to be transparent with the Congress who had – who wanted some of this information, we shared it with the Congress. Okay?

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