Emails from Obama administration aides obtained by CNN should end the right-wing media's nine-month witch hunt regarding the creation and editing of talking points related to the September 2012 attacks on diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
CNN has obtained more than 100 pages of emails detailing the exchanges between CIA, State Department, and other Obama administration aides concerning what should be included in talking points for public appearances by members of Congress and administration officials.
Those talking points were used by U.N. ambassador Susan Rice in a series of interviews that were subsequently seized upon by conservative critics who claimed she downplayed the role of terrorism in the attacks in order to aid President Obama's re-election. On May 10 ABC's Jonathan Karl reported on what he later acknowledged were summaries of a handful of the emails of administration aides, triggering another wave of claims that the administration had engaged in a cover-up.
But while the right has spent more than half a year mired in scandalmongering over the talking points, the emails buttress what Gen. David Petraeus, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, testified in November: that the intelligence community signed off on the final draft of the talking points, and that references to terrorist groups in Libya were removed in order to avoid tipping off those groups and preserve the ongoing investigation.
Notably, while the right-wing media has expressed months of outrage over administration statements linking the attacks to an anti-Islam video, claiming that this was based on political desire and not the conclusions of the intelligence community, every version of the talking points stated that the attacks were "spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo," which had been triggered by the video. The emails contain no criticism of that statement.
CNN's Jake Tapper further reports that the removal of portions of the talking points dealing with warnings about the security situation in Benghazi prior to the attacks were supported by the CIA:
Senior administration officials say that long before the CIA heard concerns from the State Department about warnings being put in the talking points, CIA Deputy Director Mike Morrell advocated for taking the warnings out, since he felt the talking points should focus on what happened in Benghazi on September 11, rather than the previous six months.
He also felt it was unprofessional and unfair for the CIA to cite its own warnings to the State Department, officials said. Victoria Nuland, then the State Department spokeswoman, raised concerns over the CIA's first version of the talking points, saying that they went further than what she was allowed to say about the attack during her briefings.
The emails include:
- The director of the CIA's Office of Terrorism Analysis agreeing to remove a claim that extremists with ties to al Qaeda participated in the attacks because it suggested culpability in the killings of U.S. personnel and "we do not know who was responsible for the deaths."
- Concerns from the general counsel of the CIA that the original talking points could "conflict with express instructions from NSS/DOJ/FBI that, in light of the criminal investigation, we are not to generate statements with assessments as to who did this."
- CIA's Office of Public Affairs suggesting language linking the attacks more strongly to the Cairo protests.
- State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland expressing concerns with portions of the talking points that she said made claims about the perpetrators belonging to groups linked with al Qaeda that "we ourselves are not making because we don't want to prejudice the investigation. The CIA's Office of Public Affairs replied that "we are waiting to hear back from the [FBI]."
- Deputy National Security Advisor Benjamin Rhodes making a single edit to the penultimate version of the talking points, changing the word "consulate" to "diplomatic post."
- Petraeus's criticism of the final talking points because they did not sufficiently link the attacks to the Cairo protests.