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Mr. Morell insisted Wednesday that neither he nor anyone else at the CIA attempted to mislead the public or craft the talking points for political purposes.

“These allegations accuse me of taking these actions for the political benefit of President Obama and then [former] Secretary of State [Hillary Rodham] Clinton,” Mr. Morell said during a rare open session of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “These allegations are false.”

Shifting blame to White House

While several of the committee’s Republicans appeared downright dissatisfied with explanations that Mr. Morell provided, Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and intelligence committee chairman, appeared eager early in the hearing to shift blame away from the CIA and toward the White House.

“I must conclude that the White House used your talking points to perpetrate its own misguided political agenda,” Mr. Rogers said. “I believe that the White House wanted America to believe that al Qaeda was on the run, thus they needed the attacks to be in response to anti-Islamic video, and so the White House used your talking points to say so.

“But we knew that al Qaeda and other affiliated terrorist organizations and militia groups participated in the attacks — officers on the ground knew that there was no protest,” he said. “I don’t believe the administration learned the lessons of this failure. Ambassador Rice stated on Feb. 23rd of this year that she has no regrets; she still believes the talking points represented the ‘best information that we had at the time.’ But she is wrong. The White House wants to ignore reality and perpetuate the fallacy that al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists are on the verge of defeat.

“Here is why this issue is important,” he added. “Al Qaeda is growing and planning operations against Americans from their safe havens in Libya, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. Yet the administration continues to talk and act as if al Qaeda is on the run. They foolishly focus on the al Qaeda ‘core.’ But it makes no difference whether terrorists who target Americans are directed by al Qaeda in Pakistan or al Qaeda in Yemen.”

Disputes over the Benghazi talking points have long been at the center of political fireworks hanging over an exhaustive series of congressional probes into the attacks that killed the four Americans.

Despite the detailed nature of Mr. Rogers‘ remarks, several of the committee’s Democrats hurled veiled accusations at Republicans, asserting that the GOP side of the committee had turned what began as a fact-based probe of Benghazi’s aftermath into a partisan smear campaign against the Obama administration.

Republicans argued that the heart of the matter rests on questions of why senior CIA and White House officials in Washington ignored a pointed assertion by the agency’s chief of station in Libya that there had been no protest and — more specifically — why those assertions were not included in talking points given to Ms. Rice.

Mr. Morell said he shared the station chief’s assertion with White House officials, including Mr. McDonough, during a Sept. 15 secure video conference call one day before Mrs. Rice went on the talk shows. But, Mr. Morell claimed, the assertion was not used in the talking points because it was simply outmatched by other streams of intelligence weighed from Sept. 11 to Sept. 16 by the CIA analysts who crafted the points.

“These included press accounts — including public statements by the Libyan government and by extremists,” he said. “And they included intelligence reports from CIA, the National Security Agency and the Department of Defense.”

Mr. Morell pressed back against the notion that he or anyone else had personally suppressed the station chief’s assertion. “This allegation flows from an email sent by our Chief of Station (COS) in Tripoli to my staff — and to a number of other officials at CIA — on the morning of 15 September,” Mr. Morell said as part of prepared remarks submitted to the committee. “Near the end of the email was a reference to the COS’s assessment that the Benghazi attack was ‘not/not an escalation of protests.’”

He said that while the assessment “jumped out” at him, it was based on “local press reports” that had said there was no protest. He told lawmakers that “this was not compelling because there were other press reports saying that there was a protest.”

The email also was based on a claim that CIA security officers who had responded to the call for help from the State Department facility from a separate CIA annex in Benghazi on the night of the attacks did not see a protest when they arrived, Mr. Morell said. “Again,” he told lawmakers, “this was not compelling because these officers did not arrive until almost an hour after the attack started and the protesters could have dispersed by them.”

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