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U.S. lawmakers are pressing President Barack Obama’s administration to explain why its initial accounts of the attack on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya, omitted references to terrorist involvement.
“The intelligence community had this right, and they put together talking points, and somewhere after it left the intelligence community, somewhere in the administration, there was very vital language taken out,” said Representative Peter King, a Republican who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, which was briefed last week by former CIA director David Petraeus. King spoke on ABC’s “This Week” program.
The early accounts of the Libyan attack are fueling criticism by some Republican lawmakers, who say the Democratic administration may have been trying to play down the role of terrorists during the president’s re-election campaign. Former Central Intelligence Agency Director Petraeus testified in separate closed-door sessions of the Senate and House intelligence committees last week that the unclassified talking points were revised to use the word “extremists” and didn’t mention al-Qaeda.
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said there’s no evidence the White House sought to cover up the terrorist network’s role in the attacks. She said lawmakers are still seeking answers about how the initial accounts of the attack were approved.
“The allegation that the White House changed those talking points -- that is false,” Feinstein said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “This whole process is going to be checked out. We’re going to find out who made changes to the original statement. Until we do, I really think it’s unwarranted to make accusations.”
Senator Carl Levin, the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the CIA’s Petraeus and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper both approved the assessment that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice used in initially describing the attack.
“Susan Rice was using the unclassified talking points, which were provided by the intelligence community,” Levin said today on ABC. “They were a consensus report.”
Intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Bloomberg News that the Obama administration dropped references to possible al-Qaeda connections from the initial remarks to protect intelligence sources, not because of political motives.
Representative Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he’s also seeking information about how the administration’s description came to differ from classified accounts.
“The narrative was wrong and the intelligence was right,” he said. “Now, getting between there and there I think you have to be careful about making those accusations.”
Senator Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he thinks the Obama administration didn’t immediately disclose what it knew about the Benghazi attacks because it undercut a campaign narrative that al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups were on the run.
“I think until you hear a better explanation that’s the only conclusion you could reach,” Blunt said today on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
To contact the reporters on this story: William Selway in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; Andrew Zajac in Washington at email@example.com
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