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“The intelligence community made substantive, analytical changes before the talking points were sent to government agency partners for their feedback,” Shawn Turner, Mr. Clapper’s spokesman, told the cable news network. “There were no substantive changes made to the talking points after they left the intelligence community.”

For now, Mrs. Rice finds herself under siege by Republicans, and Democrats are rushing to defend her.

Code words?

Mr. Clyburn made his comments a day after 97 House Republicans signed a letter sent to Mr. Obama on Monday saying that Mrs. Rice is widely viewed as “having either willfully or incompetently misled the American public in the Benghazi matter” and should not be considered for a top post in a second Obama term.

Mr. Clyburn took exception to that characterization Tuesday, saying to call her wrong for pushing a misleading narrative is one thing, but to label her “incompetent” hinted at something deeper.

“These are code words,” Mr. Clyburn said on CNN’s “Starting Point.” “We heard them during the campaign. During this recent campaign, we heard [former New Hampshire Gov. John] Sununu calling our president ‘lazy,’ ‘incompetent.’ These kinds of terms that those of us — especially those of us who were born and raised in the South — we’ve been hearing these little words and phrases all of our lives and we get insulted by them.”

But Republican strategist David Winston said the U.N. ambassador’s comments on Benghazi point to her trustworthiness — a key ingredient for a Cabinet post such as secretary of state — and people would be wise not to go beyond the fact that lingering questions on Benghazi must be answered.

“In order to be able to say ‘yes’ to the nominee, for obvious reasons, [lawmakers] need to know what occurred here in some detail,” Mr. Winston said. “This is a question of, ‘How did she manage a truly critical moment?’ And this is a major incident and how she handles it is central to her qualifications. Ultimately, [the president is] going to pick theperson who is going to best execute his policy. I’m not sure I would interpret it any farther beyond that, at this point.”

Democratic strategist Paul Goldman, a former adviser to L. Douglas Wilder, the country’s first elected black governor, said injecting such racial innuendos into criticism of the president or his administration hurts the political dialogue.

“To constantly raise the race issue is quite frankly not useful and belittles Ambassador Rice,” he said. “She’s a public figure — you can criticize her if you don’t think she’s doing a good job whether she’s a woman or whether she’s an African-American without having everyone reading every little thing into it. She’s good. She can handle herself. She’s very smart, and very capable. You don’t get into the ring in a heavyweight fight if you can’t take a punch.”