- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2013

House Speaker John A. Boehner on Thursday called on President Obama to release a cache of emails that Republicans say clearly prove senior White House and State Department officials sought to mislead the American public about the Benghazi terrorist attack during last year’s election campaign.

Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, told reporters on Capitol Hill that the administration now has a chance to clear up some of the lingering questions about when it learned that the attack was indeed “conducted by Islamic terrorists.”

At issue is the extent to which electoral politics may have motivated White House officials to strip any mention of al Qaeda or terrorism from unclassified “talking points” about who the administration thought was behind the Sept. 11 attack.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Benghazi Attack Under Microscope

The talking points were given to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice, who appeared on several Sunday talk shows Sept. 16 — five days after the Benghazi attack. Mrs. Rice characterized the incident as a spontaneous assault that had grown out of a protest against a U.S.-made video denigrating Islam.

Although the talking points have been discussed extensively over the past eight months, one exchange during a dramatic hearing Wednesday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee appears to have triggered a new wave of interest.

During the hearing, Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, claimed at one point to be reading from an email by acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones to other senior State Department and White House officials on Sept. 12 — one day after the Benghazi attack.

Mr. Gowdy said Mrs. Jones asserted in the email her belief that the group responsible for carrying out the attacks was Ansar al-Shariah, which she said was “affiliated with Islamic terrorists.” It was reported months ago that U.S. officials in Libya had told Washington that Ansar al-Shariah claimed responsibility on the day of the attack.

Reference to the email set off something of a firestorm among Democrats on Thursday. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland the ranking Democrat on the House oversight committee, said the hearing revealed nothing new, and State Department officials asserted that Mr. Gowdy quoted Mrs. Jones‘ email inaccurately and out of context.

“One of the concerns is, the way that the email was read, there was a potential inadvertent inaccuracy in the word — use of the word ‘terrorist,’” said State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell.

“My understanding is that aspects of this correspondence may have been inadvertently entered into the record incorrectly,” Mr. Ventrell said.

He added that — contrary to Mr. Gowdy’s reading of the email — the word used in the email was not “terrorist,” but “extremist.”

Mr. Gowdy confirmed that the email used the word extremist but blamed that on the department for not releasing the emails, instead letting members and staff examine them only under supervision.

“I’m entirely capable of misreading my own handwriting,” he said.

He also accused the State Department of “playing word games” and wanting “to be politically correct” about Muslim terrorism.

“The broader point is there is not one word [in the email] about a video, not one word about a spontaneous protest,” he said.

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