WASHINGTON - Political considerations influenced the talking points that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice used five days after the deadly Sept. 11 assault in Benghazi, Libya, with State Department and other senior administration officials asking that references to terror groups and prior warnings be deleted, according to department emails.
The latest disclosures Friday raised new questions about whether the Obama administration tried to play down any terrorist factor in the attack on a diplomatic compound just weeks before the November presidential election. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed when insurgents struck the U.S. mission in two nighttime attacks.
The White House has insisted that it made only a "stylistic" change to the intelligence agency talking points from which Rice suggested on five Sunday talk shows that demonstrations over an anti-Islamic video devolved into the Benghazi attack.
This June 7, 2012 file photo shows U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice listening during a news conference at the UN. Senior State Department officials pressed for changes in the talking points that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice used after the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya last September.
Numerous agencies had engaged in an email discussion about the talking points that would be provided to members of Congress and to Rice for their public comments. In one email, then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland worried about the effect of openly discussing earlier warnings about the dangers of Islamic extremists in Benghazi.
Nuland's email said such revelations "could be abused by members of Congress to beat the State Department for not paying attention to (central intelligence) agency warnings," according to a congressional official who reviewed the 100 pages of emails.
The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the emails that still have not been released.
The final talking points that weekend reflected the work of several government agencies apparently determined to cast themselves in the best light as the investigation was just getting underway.
A scathing independent report in December found that "systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels" of the State Department meant that security was "inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place."
Eight months after the attack, the long-running and bitter dispute between the Obama administration and congressional Republicans on the subject shows no sign of abating. The GOP argues that the administration deliberately tried to mislead Congress and the American people. The White House insists that Republicans are trying to politicize the issue.