Emails show jostling over talking points
May 16, 2013 10:40 AM

WASHINGTON — Emails released by the White House on Wednesday revealed a fierce internal jostling over the government’s official talking points in the aftermath of last September’s attacks in Benghazi, Libya, not only between the State Department and the CIA, but at the highest levels of the CIA.

The 100 pages of emails showed a disagreement between David H. Petraeus, then the director of the CIA, and his deputy, Michael J. Morell, over how much to disclose in the talking points, which were used by Susan E. Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, in television appearances days after the attacks.

Morell, administration officials said, deleted a reference in the draft version of the talking points to CIA warnings of extremist threats in Libya, which State Department officials objected to because they feared it would reflect badly on them.

Morell, officials said, acted on his own and not in response to pressure from the State Department. But when the final draft of the talking points was sent to Petraeus, he dismissed them, saying “Frankly, I’d just as soon not use this,” adding that the heavily scrubbed account would not satisfy the House Democrat who had requested it.

“This is certainly not what Vice Chairman Ruppersberger was hoping to get,” Petraeus wrote, referring to Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which had asked Petraeus for talking points to use with reporters in discussing the attack on Benghazi.

The White House released the emails to reporters after Republicans seized on snippets of the correspondence that became public Friday to suggest that President Barack Obama’s national security staff had been complicit in trying to alter the talking points for political reasons. While the emails portrayed White House officials as being sensitive to the concerns of the State Department, they suggest Obama’s aides mostly mediated a bureaucratic tug-of-war between the State Department and the CIA over how much to disclose — all under heavy time constraints because of the demands from Capitol Hill.

The emails revealed no new details about the administration’s evolving account of the Sept. 11 attack, which killed four Americans.

Still, the final version of the talking points is stripped of material that critics say would have raised questions about the State Department’s security posture.

Republicans welcomed the release of the emails, saying they confirmed that the administration had airbrushed its account of the attack during an election campaign. They also said the emails belied the White House’s insistence that it had only changed one word in the talking points.

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