The White House Saturday refuted testimony by former CIA Director David Petraeus to Congress, saying the administration didn’t make changes in its early talking points about the attack of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, to downplay the role of terrorists.
White House national security council spokesman Ben Rhodes instead suggested that the CIA itself may have made “adjustments” to remove references to terrorism from the agency’s early, unclassified reports to the administration about the assault that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Mr. Rhodes told reporters the only change made by the White House to the CIA’s initial reports was to change the word “consulate” to “diplomatic facility.”
“Other than that, we worked off of the [talking] points that were provided by the intelligence community,” Mr. Rhodes told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One with President Obama on a trip to southeast Asia. “So I can’t speak to any other edits that may have been made within the intelligence community. If there were adjustments made to them within the intelligence community, that’s common, and that’s something they would have done themselves within the intelligence community.”
On Friday, Mr. Petraeus told a congressional committee investigating the Libya attack that the CIA’s references to “Al Qaeda involvement” were stripped from his agency’s original talking points. Other intelligence officials were unable to say who changed the memo, according to a top lawmaker who was briefed.
Critics have repeatedly questioned the sequence of events and motivations of the attackers offered by top Obama administration officials in the months since the incident on Sept. 11. Some Republican senators have been especially critical of Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who said on TV talk shows in the week after the attack that it appeared to be related to Arab uprisings over an anti-Islam video produced in the U.S.
Mr. Rhodes said the statements by Mrs. Rice and other administration officials “were informed by unclassified talking points” from the intelligence community.
“We worked off of the points that were provided by the intelligence community,” Mr. Rhodes said. “So I can’t speak to any other edits that may have been made within the intelligence community. I can’t speak to what the process is within the CIA.”