(CNSNews.com) – After days of media leaks and back-and-forth wrangling about administration officials’ deliberations on talking points about the Benghazi attack, the White House late Wednesday released documents showing that both CIA and State Department officials pressed for the removal of all references to al-Qaeda and previous terror activity in Libya.
Among the 100 pages released is a draft of talking points being prepared for Congress and then public release about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, with extensive pen alterations by CIA deputy director Michael Morell.
Dated Sept. 14 but not time-stamped, the document shows that Morell wanted to strike sentences including an entire portion reading:
“The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al-Qaeda in Benghazi and eastern Libya. 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 that individuals had previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks.”
Morell did not, however, make amendments to the part of the draft that linked the Benghazi attack to a demonstration at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo hours earlier (by Muslims purportedly enraged by an online video clip denigrating Mohammed.)
That sentence – which with minor alterations made it into the final talking points given to U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice ahead of her appearances on Sunday talk shows on Sept. 16 – read:
“The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate [diplomatic post in Benghazi] and subsequently its annex.”
(Armed with those talking points, Rice told ABC’s This Week that “our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous – not a premeditated – response to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated.”)
U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith and Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed during the armed attack.
GOP critics have alleged that the administration’s talking points were designed to highlight the “offensive video” angle because focusing on terrorism would clash with the narrative of a diminishing terror threat in the closing stages of the election campaign. Administration officials have consistently denied this.
The documents released on Wednesday show that another sentence Morell wanted removed from draft talking points was one reading:
“On 10 September the Agency notified Embassy Cairo of social media reports calling for a demonstration and encouraging jihadists to break into the Embassy.”
Elsewhere in the package was an email sent by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland (at 7:39 pm on Sept. 14) to various CIA and White House officials, in which she too raised concern about including in the talking points the references to prior attacks in Libya and previous CIA reports on extremist activity in and around Benghazi.
Nuland warned that that portion “could be abused by Members [of Congress] to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings, so why do we want to feed that either? Concerned …”
House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman, Brendan Buck, said the release of the documents was “long overdue and there are relevant documents the administration has still refused to produce.”
“The seemingly political nature of the State Department’s concerns raises questions about the motivations behind these changes and who at the State Department was seeking them,” he said.