By Jonathan Easley - 05/10/13 06:20 PM EDT
The State Department was involved in heavy edits to talking points about the attacks that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Libya, which had references to terror groups and CIA warnings about threats in the region removed, according to emails and documents obtained by ABC News.
The report says that the White House and State Department were informed by intelligence officials that the CIA was aware of potential threats to the U.S Consulate in Benghazi from terror groups before the attacks. But the report said references to those threats were dropped from the final version of the talking points used by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice because of pressure from the State Department.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the agency was concerned that the preliminary talking points went too far in assigning blame for the attack and would have been inconsistent with what the White House had said at that early stage.
“The State Department first reviewed the talking points on Friday evening with the understanding that they were prepared for public use by members of Congress,” Psaki said in an email to The Hill. “The spokesperson's office raised two primary concerns about the talking points. 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.”
Rice appeared on Sunday news shows following the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks and said intelligence indicated they were a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islam video circulating on the Internet. The administration later admitted Rice’s claim was wrong and labeled the event an act of terror.
One of the emails obtained by ABC shows State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland objecting to a paragraph in the talking points that referenced specific terrorist threats in the region because it “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings.”
The CIA had written that "[t]he Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al-Qa’ida in Benghazi and eastern Libya.”
“These noted that, since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador’s convoy. We cannot rule out the individuals has previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks.”
According to the ABC News report, that paragraph was deleted entirely after Nuland’s email.
The White House maintains that it had no substantive input into what went in to the talking points and that it merely requested the word “consulate” be changed to “diplomatic facility.”
But the talking points used by Rice have been a central focus among Republicans in the controversy over the attack, and the new revelations could increase pressure on Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to create a select committee to investigate the incident and aftermath.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) has a resolution with 139 co-sponsors, more than half of the House Republican Conference, that would create such a panel. Boehner has said he’s confident the five committees currently investigating the attacks are sufficient.
This week, State Department whistle-blowers criticized the administration’s response to the attack , saying that the Obama administration could have done more to help the diplomats under attack and that an internal investigation shielded Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top State Department officials from blame.
— Published at 7:46 a.m. and last updated at 2:20 p.m.