Republicans: Who Watered Down Rice's Benghazi Talking Points?

National Journal

Republicans on Sunday said they wanted to find out who removed language in the talking points given to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice that suggested al-Qaida may have been behind the terrorist attack in Libya that killed four Americans on Sept. 11.

Former CIA Director David Petraeus's testimony this week suggested the intelligence community knew the attack was linked to terrorism right away, but the talking points Rice was given were changed to exclude any mention of al-Qaida or other terrorism groups, lawmakers said.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said he wants to know who changed the talking points, suggesting the Obama administration might have made changes for political reasons. For that, he says, Rice needs to testify.

"At some point, she needs to come in and say what the president or the White House directed her to say," Chambliss, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, adding that, "There are some questions that are yet to be answered about the planning of this. Whether it was done over a period of time, or, whether it was truly a spontaneous reaction. There is no indication now that it was anything other than a planned attack."

Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also raised questions about how information was changed in the weeks after the attack.

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"There was not an intelligence failure," Rogers, R-Mich., said on NBC's Meet the Press. "They had it right and had it right early."

Rogers suggested the talking points were changed when they were transferred from the intelligence community to elsewhere in the administration. Rogers made reference to a "deputy's committee," which he said was packed with political appointees. But he did not elaborate.

"That's where the narrative changed," Rogers said.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said members of the intelligence community couldn't answer who changed the talking points at the closed-door hearings last week. Because officials from the White House were not present, Lieberman said they did not get the whole story.

"I don't know whether what they said is exactly right or not," Lieberman said on Fox News Sunday. "But, what I do know is that every member of the intelligence community says that references to al-Qaida were removed by somebody, and they don't know who."

Sen. Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, echoed Obama, who defended Rice earlier this week, saying the attack on her over Sunday show appearances following the Sept. 11 incident has been unfair.

"It's one of the most unfair attacks I've ever seen in Washington in 34 years," Levin, D-Mich., said on Sunday on ABC's This Week. "Susan Rice was using the unclassified talking points, which were provided by the intelligence community. They were a consensus report."

Levin said the talking points had to have been signed off by Petraeus and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. "Were they part of a cover-up? Did they do something wrong? Ask them," Levin said.

Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said that after it left the intelligence community the "very vital language was taken out."

"The fact is that when Gen. Clapper and Gen. Petraeus signed off on those talking points, it had different language in them," King, R-N.Y., said on ABC. "When they went over to the administration -- we don't know whether it was the White House, the National Security Council, the Justice Department, or the Defense Department -- that language was changed. That was not the language that was sent over by the intelligence community as a consensus statement."

When challenged by Levin over the fact that Petraeus and Clapper had signed off on the final talking points, King said, "They had no choice at that stage."

King continued, saying that if Rice was going on national television, she should have relied on more than unclassified talking points. As ambassador to the U.N., he said, she should have received a classified briefing.

"She left a clear impression that this was a spontaneous demonstration" based on a YouTube video produced in the U.S. that is offensive to Muslims, King said. "And as President Obama said, don't blame Susan Rice, because she had nothing to do with Benghazi. Then why do they send her out as the representative to the American people?"

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Rice had to stick within the boundaries of unclassified information. "I read every one of five interviews she did that day, and she was within the context of that statement," said Feinstein, D-Calif., on NBC's Meet the Press. "She could speak publicly only on unclassified speaking points."

With several questions remaining over the Obama administration's reaction to the terrorist attack, Chambliss said further testimony will be needed from Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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Meghan McCarthy contributed. contributed to this article