White House spokesman Carney faces his toughest challenge yet

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Still, Mr. Carney remained calm and poised during Friday’s grilling — at least outwardly, thanking reporters for their questions.

And with a series of semantic contortions, he steadfastly stood by his previous comments denying White House and State Department involvement in what emails and testimony now show was an effort to downplay terrorism as a motive for the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate.

Mr. Carney previously has said the intelligence community alone crafted the “talking points” that erroneously characterized the attacks as springing out of a spontaneous response by demonstrators to an anti-Islam video made in the U.S.

United Nations Ambassador Susan E. Rice infamously used the talking points when she went on the Sunday morning news shows after the attack. The administration later acknowledged there was no protest — that it was a planned terrorist attack.

After complaints from the State Department about the substance of the talking points, they were subsequently changed 12 times and stripped of references to al Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia.

But the White House, Mr. Carney insisted, only changed one word in the talking points document — the word “consulate” to “diplomatic post.”

Emails show, though, that numerous agencies and officials engaged in the discussion about editing the talking points — including State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who wrote that her “building leadership” had concerns about openly acknowledging earlier warnings of the dangers of Islamic extremists in Benghazi.

Such revelations, she wrote, “could be abused by members of Congress to beat the State Department for not paying attention to [CIA] warnings.”

The emails also show that Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser, promised senior administration officials would meet at the White House to resolve still-lingering concerns about the talking points before Mrs. Rice went on the talk shows.

Confronted with these facts, Mr. Carney continued to insist that the talking points were a product of the intelligence community because the CIA had “signed off” on them.

“[There] was a process where there was an effort underway — an interagency process,” he said.

When pressed, he later called the editing an “iterative process” where “the various issues were discussed about what could be or should be said publicly, what we know, what we’re just speculating about, and that process involved a whole bunch of agencies.”

After enduring nearly an hour of explanations and a discussion of the definition of the word “change,” reporters didn’t seem convinced.

“When you said that Republicans were being political about it, is it not also political to say we want to keep something out of the talking points because we might be criticized by members of Congress? Is that not political motivation now?” one reporter asked.

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