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By November, the debate on Benghazi shifted from security to those CIA-produced talking points. The intelligence committee took testimony behind closed doors from CIA officials. They learned about changes to the initial assessment of who attacked the consulate, with the references to al Qaeda removed at the request of Obama political appointees at the State Department.

On Nov. 28, reporters repeatedly asked Mr. Carney why the administration pressed for changes that turned out to be inaccurate. Mr. Carney provided an answer that would spark accusations that he deliberately misled the American people.

He said, “The White House and the State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two — of these two institutions were changing the word ‘consulate’ to ‘diplomatic facility,’ because ‘consulate’ was inaccurate.”

His message was clear: The CIA wrote them on its own. The only correction the president’s men and State wanted was a single insignificant style change referring to an issue of diplomatic protocol.

Clinton appears

On Dec. 19, State released the findings of its accountability review board, headed by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and retired Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.

The panel harshly criticized State leaders for failing to provide more security. But the panel said responsibility stopped at the assistant secretary level and did not reach Mrs. Clinton. She never appeared before the board.

“Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place,” the board said.

Four senior State officials left their posts, but not necessarily the federal payroll. Eric Boswell resigned as assistant secretary for diplomatic security; Charlene Lamb as the deputy for embassy security; Raymond Maxwell as the deputy assistant secretary for North Africa; and a fourth official was reassigned.

As the year ended, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee issued the first criticisms of the Pentagon for failing to be in a ready state to aid diplomats in an area of the world known to harbor al Qaeda-linked extremists. It faulted State for not coordinating such plans.

As 2013 began, Mrs. Clinton, having recovered from a concussion, faced congressional scrutiny for the first time.

Amid blistering questions from Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the potential 2016 presidential candidate did not give an inch. She said she was never told of requests for added security in Libya, nor did she play a role in influencing the infamous talking points.

“I wasn’t involved in the talking points process,” she testified.

Then she uttered the Jan. 23 hearing’s most famous quote: “Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans?”

With arms raised in the air, she testified, “What difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again.”

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