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Posted at 3:57 p.m. on May 14, 2013
A Republican aide told me moments ago that nothing revealed in an exclusive CNN report contradicts the House GOP investigation that suggests an administration cover-up over the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others dead.
Earlier Tuesday, CNN’s Jake Tapper reported on a email he obtained that could indicate that the White House was not collaborating with the State Department to shield President Barack Obama’s administration from any criticism that might arise over the nature of the Benghazi attack. Republicans have insinuated that the administration was sensitive to acknowledging that what happened in Benghazi was pre-planned terrorist attack carried out by Islamic fundamentalists because doing so would have contradicted Obama’s campaign rhetoric that terrorists were on the run because of his policies.
As Tapper reported: “The actual e-mail from then-Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes appears to show that whomever leaked it did so in a way that made it appear that the White House was primarily concerned with the State Department’s desire to remove references and warnings about specific terrorist groups so as to not bring criticism to the department.”
But a House Republican aide said nothing in Tapper’s report absolves the administration from a main point of contention in the House Republican investigation: that the State Department obfuscated and attempted to mischaracterize what happened in Benghazi. When I asked if Tapper’s CNN report took the air out of the House GOP investigation’s sails, the Republican aide referred me to the relevant portion of the inquiry.
“The talking points in question were initially created for the House Intelligence Committee, after a briefing by then-Director of the CIA, David Petraeus. Members of the Committee sought guidance on how to discuss the attacks publicly and in an unclassified manner. The CIA generated the initial drafts of the unclassified talking points and provided them to other officials within the Executive Branch for clearance. The initial CIA draft circulated to the interagency group included references to:
1) previous notifications provided to Embassy Cairo of social media reporting encouraging jihadists to break into the Embassy;
2) indications that Islamic extremists participated in the events in Benghazi;
3) potential links to Ansar al-Sharia;
4) information about CIA-produced assessments of the threat from extremists linked to al-Qa’ida in Benghazi and eastern Libya; and
5) information about five previous attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi since April 2012.
“When draft talking points were sent to officials throughout the Executive Branch, senior State Department officials requested the talking points change 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 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.”
The GOP aide added, “I’d also note that [Jonathan] Karl’s ABC story clearly states that he’s reporting on summaries of the emails. There’s no ‘there there’ when it comes to the White House pushback on this.”