By Justin Sink - 05/10/13 08:29 PM EDT
White House press secretary Jay Carney maintained Friday he did not mischaracterize the White House and State Department's role in developing of talking points regarding the attack on the American diplomatic post in Benghazi.
"There was a process leading up to that from a variety of agencies, as is always the case and is always appropriate," Carney said at a White House press briefing.
"The overriding concern of everyone involved is that we're not giving to people who speak in public information that can't be confirmed."
Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed during a siege on the consulate in Benghazi last Sept. 11. The administration initially said the attacks were the result of a spontaneous protest before concluding they were a deliberate act of terrorism.
Carney on Friday was responding to an ABC News report that the talking points given to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice about Benghazi underwent 12 rounds of revisions with extensive input from the State Department, seemingly contradicting Carney's claims in November.
During a White House briefing then, Carney said that the talking points "originated from the intelligence community" and the only adjustment from the White House and State Department was "changing the word ‘consulate’ to ‘diplomatic facility.'"
The emails obtained by ABC News suggest the State Department more thoroughly rewrote the talking points, objecting to paragraphs that indicated the CIA had flagged previous threats in the region. References to 'Islamic extremists' and the al Qaeda-affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia were also scrubbed from the final revision.
But on Friday, Carney said that his previous statement was meant to characterize the White House's involvement after a final draft of the talking points was developed by the CIA — after the State Department's input.
Carney said the initial round of deliberations was undertaken not for political reasons, but to "provide information for members of Congress and others in the administration that was based on only what the intelligence community could say for sure it thought it knew."
In the emails, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said she objected to naming the terrorist groups because “we don’t want to prejudice the investigation.”
Subsequently, State Department officials have said Nuland was also concerned the talking points would allow members of Congress to reveal information about the attacks that the administration had not yet disclosed.
"The spokesperson's office raised two primary concerns about the talking points," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki in a statement.
"First that the points went further in assigning responsibility than preliminary assessments suggested and there was concern about preserving the integrity of the investigation. Second, that the points were inconsistent with the public language the Administration had used to date – meaning members of Congress would be providing more guidance to the public than the Administration."
But Nuland's emails also warn that the information in the talking points “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department." Pressed Friday on whether the taking points had been revised out of those political concerns, Carney said "the answer to that is no."
Carneysuggested Republicans had been attempting to gain politically off the Benghazi attack since the 2012 campaign.
"There is the discussion about, you know, the Republicans again, and this ongoing effort that began hours of the attacks when Mitt Romney put out a press release to try to take political advantage out of these deaths, or out of the attack in Benghazi, and, in a move that was maligned even by members of his own party," Carney said. "And from that day forward, there has been this effort to politicize it."
Carney said members of Congress had been provided the emails months ago — and had apparently leaked them to the press.
Moreover, Carney said, the White House independently confirmed that the attacks had been a terrorist event in the weeks after the attack.
"The whole effort here by Republicans to find some hidden mystery comes to nothing because the president called it an act of terror," Carney said.
"This is an effort to accuse the administration of hiding something that we did not hide."
Carney's efforts to assure reporters that the White House had nothing to hide were partially undercut by a background briefing conducted with just 14 news outlets earlier Friday afternoon.
That pushed the regularly scheduled daily briefing into the late afternoon, and drew numerous questions from reporters about what the White House was unwilling to say with the cameras on. It also drew taunts from spokespeople for the Republican National Committee and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Carney said the briefings were done "periodically" and he had not revealed anything he was not willing to say publicly.
"No one here believes that briefings like that are substitutes for this briefing," Carney said.
Boehner on Friday reiterated his call that the administration release all of the emails to the public. While congressional investigators had previously been given access to the emails, they were not allowed to make or distribute copies.
"We call on the President to keep his word about cooperation and release this email immediately," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said.
Elsewhere, other Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to return to Capitol Hill to testify about her involvement in changing the talking points.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) suggested that the new revelations could lead to President Obama's impeachment.
“Of all the great cover-ups in history — the Pentagon papers, Iran-Contra, Watergate, all the rest of them — this ... is going to go down as most egregious cover-up in American history,” Inhofe told the Rusty Humphries Show.