In an apparent effort to settle the on-going dispute over the development of the government's talking points in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, the White House released, early Wednesday evening, nearly 100 pages of emails outlining how those points were developed.
The emails (all of which can be seen — and searched — at the bottom of this post) progress as originally reported by ABC News. Initial drafts from the CIA — which, as has been noted, included references to a protest over a YouTube video — were subjected to feedback from administration officials, the State Department, and other CIA representatives.
What's more clear from the emails is the extent of the exchange between the parties. The initial ABC report, relying heavily on an unidentified person who had access to the exchange, gave the impression that the State Department was mandating changes unilaterally. On Tuesday, CNN raised questions about that formulation, showing one email which called ABC's presentation into question.
Republican critics of the administration's response to the attack embraced the ABC report as an indication that the White House (and Obama) and State Department (and Hillary Clinton) were working to hide information that they considered unhelpful. Wednesday's document dump will certainly not entirely eliminate those concerns, but may further bolster the alternative view of the back-and-forth: that the State Department and CIA each wanted to distance themselves from the attack as much as possible.
Some interesting discoveries have already been made, particularly around a key point: when was a reference to Al Qaeda participation removed? CNN points out that it appears to have been the CIA that did so.
It specified that intelligence officials did not know whether Islamic extremists, including those aligned with al Qaeda, has participated in the attack.
This bullet was later changed after a CIA analyst questioned whether the current intelligence supported the assertion that extremists had participated in the attack.
Another CIA officer agreed, stating the intel placed extremists at a protest, but could not support the notion that extremists were responsible for the Americans' deaths.
One CIA official indicates that the White House didn't have concerns with the talking points as they existed at the end of the day Friday.
Politico's Dylan Byers points to an assertion from the FBI.
Do I have this right? Email at 9/14/12 9:43 p.m.: "FBI says AQ…was involved" ?— Dylan Byers (@DylanByers) May 15, 2013
The email in question:
The emails suggest that if there was a coverup, the uppers didn’t do much covering & that the WH was most concerned with interagency accord— Marc Ambinder (@marcambinder) May 15, 2013
This is the key page - CIA Deputy Morrell's hand-written edit of Benghazi talking points twitter.com/StevenTDennis/…— Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) May 15, 2013
Email exchange b/w CIA Dir. Petraeus and aide show he didn't like final version of talking points. twitter.com/RyanLizza/stat…— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) May 15, 2013
The Wall Street Journal explains why the administration likely released the documents at this point.
The decision to release them represented a major shift that officials hope will tamp down the controversy. Administration lawyers for months had rebuffed calls to hand over the emails on the grounds the exchanges were part of internal administration deliberations.
But administration officials have complained that congressional Republicans in recent days have been leaking selective excerpts from the emails to buttress their argument that the talking points were manipulated for political purposes.
Reporters, including ourselves, are poring over the contents; we will update as information is uncovered.
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