Nuland denies any role in preparing Benghazi talking points

Victoria Nuland on Thursday denied having any role in crafting the talking points used to discuss the Benghazi terrorist attack. 

Nuland, President Obama's nominee to be the nation's top diplomat on European issues, told the Senate Foreign Relations panel that she didn't edit the talking points, didn't talk to then-Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIntel Dem decries White House 'gag order' after Bannon testimony 'Total free-for-all' as Bannon clashes with Intel members Mellman: On Political Authenticity (Part 2) MORE about them and had no interaction with U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice before she delivered them on Sunday talk shows five days after the attack. 

Nuland, nominated to be assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, had come under fire after raising concerns with an early draft of the talking points.

“I never edited these talking points,” she told Congress. “I never made changes.”

Nuland was one of the people involved in reviewing an early draft that was being prepared for the House Intelligence panel. As a State Department spokeswoman, she raised concerns that the draft blamed the attack on al Qaeda-linked militants and made references to past warnings against the U.S. mission in Benghazi prior to the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans last Sept. 11.

That last point, she wrote, “could be abused by Members [of Congress] to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency [CIA] warnings, so why do we want to feed that either.”

Nuland testified Thursday that she raised the concerns based on instructions to be consistent with what the administration had been saying in public, to protect the integrity of the investigation and to make sure that different agencies — including the State Department, the CIA and the Defense Department — weren't set back. 

“My concern was that it was not in that spirit,” she said of references to past CIA warnings of Islamist threats in eastern Libya.

Nuland said she merely flagged the controversial points for review by her superiors. She said she was not instructed to raise the concerns but did so on her own. 

She also testified that she did not talk to Clinton about the talking points and had no involvement with Rice before she delivered them on national television. Rice had to abandon her shot at being secretary of State amid Republican opposition to her TV appearances, but is now the president's national security adviser.

“At no point that evening or subsequently did I talk to Secretary Clinton about the talking points,” Nuland said. “I had no conversation with Susan Rice herself ... I frankly never saw the [finalized] talking points” that she used.

Republicans made it clear Thursday that they were grilling Nuland largely out of frustration that panel Chairman Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezCongress must provide flexible funding for owners of repeatedly flooded properties Senate ethics panel resumes Menendez probe after judge declares mistrial Judge declares mistrial in Menendez bribery case MORE (D-N.J.) is not holding hearings on the attack.

“Because the committee isn't holding any more hearings on this issue,” said Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Cybersecurity: Bipartisan bill aims to deter election interference | Russian hackers target Senate | House Intel panel subpoenas Bannon | DHS giving 'active defense' cyber tools to private sector Senators unveil bipartisan push to deter future election interference Puerto Rico's children need recovery funds MORE (R-Fla.), “you're quite frankly the only witness we have.”

Despite the controversy, Nuland is expected to sail to confirmation. 

She has served under both Democratic and Republican presidents in top State Department jobs and came to Thursday's hearing with a letter praising her “integrity” and “scrupulous nonpartisanship” signed by top foreign policy experts of both parties, including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams.

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