It’s well documented that in the days and weeks following the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, the Obama administration conveyed to the American people a wholly inaccurate account of the events. The talking points used by senior administration officials, including U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, had been altered to remove any references to the participation of Islamic terrorists in the attack and the previous terrorist threats in the area. For months, the White House has suggested it had no part in editing the talking points – which served as the United State’s government’s official explanation of what took place that night. We now know those claims aren’t true.
Again today the White House said that changes made to the talking points were made almost exclusively by the intelligence community, ignoring the fact that senior White House and State Department officials directed the CIA to change those talking points. Hiding behind the CIA, the President’s spokesman claimed this afternoon that White House changes amounted to a single word, for “stylistic” purposes. However, the recent disclosure by a five-committee investigation of internal email correspondence demonstrates that substantive edits – nearly a wholesale rewrite – were directed by White House and senior State Department officials to the CIA. From the multi-committee interim report:
“When draft talking points were sent to officials throughout the Executive Branch, senior State Department officials requested the talking points be changed to avoid criticism for ignoring the threat environment in Benghazi. Specifically, State Department emails reveal senior officials had ‘serious concerns’ about the talking points, because Members of Congress might attack the State Department for “not paying attention to Agency warnings” about the growing threat in Benghazi. This process to alter the talking points can only be construed as a deliberate effort to mislead Congress and the American people.
“After slight modifications were made on Friday, September 14, a senior State Department official again responded that the edits did not ‘resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership,’ and that the Department’s leadership was ‘consulting with [National Security Staff].’ Several minutes later, White House officials responded by stating that the State Department’s concerns would have to be taken into account and asserted further discussion would occur the following morning at a Deputies Committee Meeting.
“After the Deputies Committee Meeting on Saturday, September 15, 2012, at which any interagency disagreement would be resolved by the White House, a small group of officials from both the State Department and the CIA worked to modify the talking points to their final form to reflect the decision reached in the Deputies meeting. The actual edits were made by a current high-ranking CIA official. Those edits struck any and all suggestions that the State Department had been previously warned of threats in the region, that there had been previous attacks in Benghazi by al-Qa’ida-linked groups in Benghazi and eastern Libya, and that extremists linked to al-Qa’ida may have participated in the attack on the Benghazi Mission. The talking points also excluded details about the wide availability of weapons and experienced fighters in Libya, an exacerbating factor that contributed to the lethality of the attacks.”
From these emails (recently denied to be made public by the White House), it’s clear that the State Department and White House were deeply involved in re-drafting these talking points. Cynically claiming that the White House bears no responsibility for the talking points because a CIA officer physically made the changes is the kind of evasion that won’t fly with the American people. The question isn’t who was sitting at the keyboard; it’s who decided not to tell the American people the truth. The White House should make these emails public and explain to the American people their motives for stripping the talking points of critical information.