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Defiant Obama calls Benghazi controversy 'a political circus'

A defiant President Obama charged congressional Republicans with drumming up controversy over the attack on the U.S.
President Barack Obama (Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
President Barack Obama

A defiant President Obama charged congressional Republicans with drumming up controversy over the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya eight months ago, calling recent hearings and investigations a "sideshow" and a "political circus," and insisting when it comes to rumors of a cover up, "There's no there, there."

"The whole issue of this—of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow," Obama told reporters in a joint press conference with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron Monday.

New details emerged Friday over emails showing the White House and State Department may have been more closely involved in changes made to official talking points in the days after the attack than the administration had previously acknowledged.

"The emails that you allude to were provided by us to congressional committees," Obama said Monday. "They reviewed them several months ago, concluded that in fact there was nothing afoul in terms of the process that we had used. And suddenly, three days ago, this gets spun up as if there's something new to the story. There's no 'there' there."

The president charged Republican leadership with purely political motivation for insisting on re-litigating the controversy and challenging the integrity of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others, including himself.

Clinton is widely considered to be a leading contender for the 2016 presidential election, should she choose to run. Republicans have already hinted at using Benghazi against Clinton in a possible campaign, with Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky saying Friday that the attack should "preclude her from holding higher office."

"We've had folks who have challenged Hillary Clinton's integrity, Susan Rice's integrity, General Mike Mullen and Ambassador Tom Pickering's integrity. It's a given that mine gets challenged by these same folks," Obama said, adding "They've used it for fundraising."

Ambassador Tom Pickering, who co-chaired the State Department's Accountability Review Board (ARB) report on Benghazi which released its findings in December, stood by that report Monday on msnbc's Morning JoeHe also reiterated claims that the State Department's response to the Benghazi siege were made well below former Secretary Clinton's level.

"We had a very clear and I think, very obvious indication of precisely where the decisions were made, and where they were reviewed," Pickering said on Morning Joe. "She [Clinton] was not involved in it so there was no reason to question her... and there were no other questions that we had in mind—all five of us—so I don’t believe anything at this stage is change by the testimony last week. In fact I think it‘s been reinforced."

On msnbc's Andrea Mitchell Reports Wednesday, Pickering said that the idea of a cover-up, "has the elements of Pulitzer Prize fiction attached to it."