Revisions made to the Obama administration's talking points following the Sept. 11 attack on a diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, are now playing a central role in the ongoing controversy over the administration's response to the attacks. At question is how the administration came to initially characterize the attacks as motivated by an anti-Muslim YouTube video, allegations that later proved false.
On Friday, 12 drafts of the talking points, which were originally drafted by the CIA and later obtained by ABC News, showed that State Department officials requested removing references to Al Qaeda-affiliated groups and CIA warnings about terrorist threats in Benghazi.
Further information indicates that the so-called "cover up" appears to be an example of inter-agency antipathy more than insidious political conspiracy. An update to the original ABC report adds that State Department spokesman Victoria Nolan sought to alter the talking points not to protect the president’s image in the middle of his re-election campaign, but because, “she believed the CIA was attempting to exonerate itself at the State Department’s expense by suggesting CIA warnings about the security situation were ignored.”
The revelations came just a day after Thursday’s emotional testimony of U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya Gregory Hicks on the tragic killing of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stephens.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, now wants former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to return to Capitol Hill to testify before Congress, because he says Clinton's first five and a half-hour questioning wasn’t enough. Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe also predicts that President Obama will have to deal with impeachment pressures.
While officials and lawmakers struggle to make sense of the paper trail surrounding the administration’s communications strategy regarding the attacks, Republican strategist Karl Rove’s super PAC, American Crossroads, rolled out an ad blaming former Secretary Clinton for covering up the terrorist groups linked to the attack.
Clinton’s successor at the State Department addressed the slow burning controversy in a Google hangout with NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell, saying, “It’s a tragedy, but I hate to see it turned into a pure, prolonged political process that really doesn’t tell us anything new about the facts.” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was more direct in a heated press conference on Friday, calling out GOP lawmakers and operatives for their “attempts to politicize,” the Benghazi tragedy, and standing by his original comments that “the only edits made by anyone here at The White House were stylistic and non-substantive.”
Rep. Mike Pompeo of the House Intelligence Committee disagreed with the administration’s position on Weekends with Alex Witt, saying that, “the changes made to those e-mails weren’t aesthetic, they weren’t cursory…State Department and [The] White House put out a document that didn’t reflect the reality on the ground as they knew it at the time.”
The Kansas Republican raised concerns that “political” actors were the ones responsible for withholding hard-earned intelligence data from citizens who are in turn responsible for choosing their elected leaders, but disagreed with claims that Republicans are on a witch-hunt. “This isn’t about politics; this is about uncovering the facts surrounding a major national security failure.”