By Jeremy Herb
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he was “surprised and frustrated” to read reports that the intelligence community had altered talking points about the attack in Benghazi, Libya, after being told last week that the source of the edits was unknown.
A spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Monday said it was the intelligence community — and not other agencies or the White House — that made the edits.
“I participated in hours of hearings in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week regarding the events in Benghazi, where senior intelligence officials were asked this very question, and all of them — including the Director of National Intelligence himself — told us that they did not know who made the changes,” McCain said in a statement Tuesday. “Now we have to read the answers to our questions in the media.”
The White House says Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, was reading from the talking points when she attributed the attack to a spontaneous protest, rather than terrorism.
Republicans, including McCain, have threatened to block Rice's nomination if Obama puts her forward for secretary of State.
Lawmakers said former CIA director David Petraeus told them last week that his agency knew within 24 hours that the attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi, which killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three more Americans, was a terrorist attack, possibility involving al Qaeda and its affiliates.
But the unclassified talking points that were used by Rice did not include the terrorist connections, and Republicans suggested that the administration may have edited them for political reasons.
House Homeland Security Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.) said he felt that Petraeus was also trying to change his story from his initial testimony to Congress in the week following the attack.
Democrats defended Rice on Friday, saying that the CIA and other intelligence groups signed off on the talking points that reference a spontaneous attack.
Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Rice was being “pilloried” unfairly by GOP critics.
But McCain said that the new statements only add to the administration’s suspicious actions in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack.
“There are many other questions that remain unanswered,” McCain said. “But this latest episode is another reason why many of us are so frustrated with, and suspicious of, the actions of this administration when it comes to the Benghazi attack.”