Team Obama edits to Benghazi talking points: the smoking gun?
The White House refused to concede on Friday that the administration's edits to a set of 'talking points' about deadly attacks on a US compound in Benghazi, Libya, were more than cosmetic. That is debatable.
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In particular, State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland objected to a paragraph detailing previous CIA warnings that extremists linked to Al Qaeda were active in the area, according to internal administration e-mails on the subject obtained by ABC News.
She thought this might reflect a CIA attempt to protect itself at the expense of State. In addition, it “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that either?” wrote Ms. Nuland.
Why is this important? It’s important because the White House has long denied that administration officials made anything other than cosmetic changes to those talking points.
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Reporters hammered White House spokesman Jay Carney on this question Friday, asking whether that assertion still stood. Mr. Carney insisted that it did – that the changes had ultimately been made by the CIA, not the White House or State Department.
The CIA made those alterations after an interagency process, in which many arms of the government got to weigh in, said Carney.
“There is always a deliberative process,” said the White House spokesman.
The CIA’s initial draft of the talking points almost made a reference to a possible link to the Islamic extremist group Ansar al-Sharia. That didn’t make it into the final product.
“The talking points were focused on what we knew ... [and] as we learned more we provided it,” said Carney.
This latest flap is sure to feed continued news coverage of the Benghazi controversy. Republicans have accused the administration of initially covering up a link to terrorism in the attack and then downplaying that link throughout the 2012 campaign lest its record against Al Qaeda be called into question.
The GOP has aimed in particular at then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, with many Republicans charging that Benghazi and its aftermath should disqualify her from becoming president of the United States.