White House releases 100 pages of emails and notes on Benghazi attacks

7:31 PM, May 15, 2013   |    comments
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 PDF Document: Benghazi Emails

(USA TODAY) -- The White House Wednesday released 100 pages of emails documenting the correspondence and revisions made to the Benghazi talking points given to Susan Rice.

The emails show that after an interagency meeting at the White House, Obama administration officials crossed out sections of the initial narrative provided by the CIA to be disseminated to public, removing any mention of terrorism and the name of an al Qaeda-linked group whose members the CIA said were involved.

Several early versions of the CIA's talking points said that a day before the attack, radicals in Cairo had called for a demonstration in front of the U.S. embassy "encouraging Jihadists to break into the Embassy."

The final version was a shadow of the original, with no language about warnings provided by the CIA up until the day before the attack.

Once the talking points were finalized, someone from the CIA asked that a copy be sent to "the Director," who at the time was David Petraeus, saying "He needs to know in advance what is going to the Hill in his name, even if it (is) going with the force of full interagency coordination."

The White House had until now declined to make the documents public and had let congressional investigators review the documents without making copies.

The documents describe how the administration developed "talking points" to describe what the administration wanted to discuss publicly immediately after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Susan Rice used the talking points Sept. 16, when she went on Sunday talk shows, denied that known terrorists were involved in the attack and blamed it on a spontaneous demonstration by people upset over an anti-Islam film. Gregory Hicks, a State Department official who were in Libya during the attack and Amb. Stevens' second in command, testified before the House Oversight Committee last week that no protest preceded the attack in Benghazi.

The initial CIA version of the talking points included the line: "We do know that Islamic extremists participated in the violent demonstrations," and said initial press reporting linked the attack to Ansar al-Sharia, an al Qaeda-linked group based in Benghazi.

State Department officials had said the talking poins were changed to protect an FBI investigation and sensitive intelligence.

In the emails, Victoria Nuland, then-spokeswoman for the State Department, and Tommy Vietor, then-spokesman for the White House National Security Council, say the talking points should knock down what they called unproven or inaccurate information being disseminated by members of Congress about who was involved in the attack and that it was premeditated.

"There is massive disinformation out there, in particular with Congress," Vietor wrote. "They all think it was premeditated based on inaccurate asusmptoins or briefings."

Nuland asked "Why do we want Hill to be fingering Ansar al Sharia, when we aren't doing that ourselves until we have investigation results?"

The point "could be abused by members of Congress to beat the State Department for not paying to Agency (CIA) warnings so why do we want to feed that either?" she wrote.

In an email sent at 9:52 p.m. Sept. 14, however, someone at CIA wrote that the talking points process has "run into major problems." The FBI approved and the White House "cleared quickly," it says. "But State has major concerns."

The talking at that point said "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 and subsequently its annex."

While the investigation "is on-going" that version said, "there are indications that Islamic extremists participated in the violent demonstrations."

It also said the CIA had warned the U.S. embassy in Cairo Sept. 10, the day before the attack, that social media reports called for a demonstration "encouraging Jihadists to break into the Embassy."

While mention of the demonstration and protests remained in the final version, language about warnings and the involvement of known Islamic extremist did not survive editing at a so-called deputies meeting at the White House the next day.

At a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday, lawmakers asked Attorney General Eric Holder if the FBI's Benghazi investigation has produced any results.

Holder said "definitive action has been taken'' in its investigation into the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Holder declined to elaborate on the nature of the action, except to suggest that it could be made public soon.

Holder said federal authorities have "taken steps that are definitive and concrete.''

"We are prepared to reveal shortly what we have done,'' Holder said. "We are in a good position with regard to that investigation,'' he said.

Oren Dorell, USA TODAY. Contributing: Kevin Johnson; the Associated Press

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