As the hour grew late on the night of Sept. 14, the White House wanted to make one thing clear to the State Department and the CIA as the three collaborated on what would come to be known as the Benghazi “talking points,” designed to be used by Congress and administration officials to explain what had happened three days earlier at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
“There is massive disinformation out there,” Mr. Vietor wrote. “They all think it was premeditated based on inaccurate assumptions or briefings. So I think this is a response to not only a tasking from the house intel committee but also [National Security Council] guidance that we need to brief members/press and correct the record.”
The initial talking points ran six paragraphs long and said the crowd was a mix of individuals, but “that being said, we do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qaida participated in the attack.” The talking points went on to recount attacks against other countries’ diplomatic missions in Benghazi and raised the prospect that the U.S. facilities were “previously surveilled” in anticipation of the attack.
By the time the talking points were approved a day later, they had been reduced to three paragraphs and any hint of terrorists or planning had been scrubbed. The final version said the attack was the culmination of “demonstrations” that were “spontaneously inspired” by protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo earlier Sept. 11, though it did acknowledge “indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.”
Benghazi and the administration’s talking points have not gone away as an issue for Republicans.
On Tuesday, Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, delivered a floor speech on the need for a special committee to answer several questions. He said he plans a series of statements and letters to the State Department to garner more information before the August recess.
“Perhaps the most telling sign of the incomplete state of the Benghazi investigation is the fact that not one of the survivors of the Benghazi attacks — from the consulate or the [CIA] annex — have publicly testified before Congress,” Mr. Wolf said. “Despite nearly a full year of multiple committee investigations, not one witness has been brought before a committee to publicly testify under oath about what happened that night.”
On Thursday, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs will hold a hearing on what Rep. Edward R. Royce, California Republican and committee chairman, calls “inadequacies” in the State Department’s accountability review board and its report on Benghazi security failures.
A page-by-page examination of administration emails documenting the editing of the talking points shows a final product that got the facts wrong, but dovetailed with President Obama’s campaign-mode narrative that a mob angry over an American video committed the attack.
The document has become the centerpiece of a Washington scandal, as Republicans charge that the White House attempted to cover up what really happened so as not to harm the president’s re-election chances. Obama supporters say the exercise was standard interagency back-and-forth discussion as all sides tried to reach agreement on the facts.
Some findings from the pages of emails released by the White House on May 16:
• Obama aides ignored or discounted mounting evidence that the attack was planned — not, as they asserted, a spontaneous violent protest over an anti-Muslim YouTube video.
• State Department political appointees worked to delete any language that suggested there were warnings of an attack, saying it would leave Foggy Bottom open to criticism from Congress. (Congressional hearings later would show that the embassy in Tripoli had sent memos warning of increased violence and asking for more security.)