White House Says Benghazi Probe ‘Non-Substantive,’ Defends Early Talking Points About Attack

Fred Lucas | May 8, 2013 | 4:58pm EDT
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White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. (AP)

(CNSNews.com) – As whistleblowers came forward on Capitol Hill regarding the potential cover-up surrounding the Benghazi, Libya terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2012, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney insisted the investigation was “politicized” and “non-substantive.” But he refrained from questioning the congressional witnesses making allegations that the administration has been dismissing.

A reporter asked Carney at today’s briefing, “Do you question their motivation?”

Carney said, “I don’t. I’m simply saying there has been an ongoing effort to politicize this. But beyond that, I’m not questioning the motivations of those who are testifying.”

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Carney was peppered with questions about the alleged cover-up of the administration’s response to the Benghazi attack that left four Americans murdered, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Stevens’ number two, Gregory Hicks, deputy chief of mission in Libya, was among those testifying and challenging the official government account of events from the attack on Sept. 11, 2012.

Carney stuck with a message answering almost every question by saying Republicans in Congress politicized the investigation, that the State Department’s Accountability Review Board has addressed the matter, and referred other questions to the Central Intelligence Agency.

“The Accountability Review Board made clear there were failures and made clear there were problems and made clear who was responsible and what needed to be done to fix it,” Carney said. “What seems to be the case is that that’s not satisfying politically to some in Congress, and therefore there is an effort to go further.”

“But the efforts, they keep overshooting their marks here,” said Carney. “This effort last week to turn a pro forma signature on a cable into a scandal, which is an accusation that’s been laughed out of the room, doesn’t hold water.”

This photo, which was published in the Bureau of Diplomatic Securities annual report for 2011, shows then-Special Envoy Chris Stevens in Benghazi on April 11, six days after he landed there in a Greek cargo ship.  (State Dept. photo)

Carney was referring to a joint congressional report completed by five House committees that said, “Reductions of security levels prior to the attacks in Benghazi were approved at the highest levels of the State Department, up to and including Secretary Clinton. This fact contradicts her testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on January 23, 2013.”

Even though Clinton delegated someone to sign the cables denying requests for extra security on her behalf, it is still her responsibility, said Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

“I think the [ARB] report basically said that she had to assume the responsibility,” McKeon told CNSNews.com. “She’s the one that apparently signed the papers that let them pull the security out of Benghazi that the ambassador had asked for.”

“They’re saying she signed something without knowing what she’s signing?” he continued. “You can’t give up the responsibility. If you want to turn it over to somebody to sign it for you, you don’t turn over the responsibility. If that’s her management style – you guys sign things for me – she’s still got the responsibility. That’s the way it works.”

The House report also criticized the ARB report for not interviewing Clinton and other senior level State Department officials.

Fending off questions about the initial administration talking points that claimed the attack resulted from a spontaneous demonstration against a YouTube video rather than a planned terror attack, Carney and other administration officials initially said those talking points were edited by the intelligence community.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

But several reporters today asked about a recent story in The Weekly Standard that reported the White House and the State Department had a role in editing the talking points.

“What remains the case is the intelligence community, CIA, drafted these talking points, and redrafted these talking points,” Carney said. “The fact that there are inputs is always the case. But the only edits made here at the White House were stylistic and non-substantive. They corrected the description of the building, or the facility in Benghazi, from consulate to diplomatic facility and the like.”

“Ultimately, this all has been discussed in an enormous level of detail by the administration to congressional investigators, and the attempt to politicize the talking points again is part of an effort to chase after what isn’t the substance,” said Carney.

The reporter also asked, “These changes look much more than stylistic with references to security concerns expressed on Sept. 10, the day before the attack, being take out. There is a reference to –.”

Carney interrupted, “What we said and remains true to this day is that the intelligence community drafted and redrafted these points. That is what the deputy director of the CIA has said.”

“The fact that there is input from others doesn’t change the fact that the CIA or the intelligence community drafted these points consist with what they knew,” Carney said. “To this day, it has to be acknowledged that those talking points Susan Rice, Ambassador Rice, went out and used on those Sunday shows, and that I, of course, used when I discussed it made clear that a) we believed extremists were involved in the attack and b) that we knew more information would come to light and our understanding of what happened would be affected as information became available. And every bit of information that’s become available from it in those days following was provided by us.”

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