On Fox News this morning, Ayotte gave what was akin to a greatest hits version of the fact/logic-free Republican narrative on Libya, before focusing in on the administration’s not specifically referring to al Qaeda in their public remarks on the attack.
This newest source of outrage of Ayotte and other Republicans stems from the fact that the CIA’s original unclassified talking points, used by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice in explaining the administration’s then-understanding of the attack on Sept. 16, were edited before delivery by Rice. In particular, a direct reference to terrorist groups was changed to read “extremists” during an interagency review to both broaden the scope of the points and not warn suspects of the extent of U.S. knowledge. However, this explanation did not satisfy Ayotte:
AYOTTE: Fourteen days later he did not call it a terrorist attack, nor did he reference it as connected to al Qaeda or an al Qaeda affiliated group. In fact the only reference he made to al Qaeda in that U.N. speech to the world was that al Qaeda had been weakened and Osama bin Laden was dead. This raises additional questions, it goes beyond Ambassador Rice. First of all, why were the talking points changed? It doesn’t make any sense to me that we were trying to dupe al Qaeda, that doesn’t pass the laugh test. But also, why was the President out fourteen days later and still failing to call it a terrorist attack to the world?
Watch Ayotte here:
The certainty that Ayotte shows is in no way shared by the administration or the intelligence community. Investigations into the assault’s perpetrators and their motives are still ongoing, with no official determination given yet by Congress, the State Department, or the FBI. While potential links between the Libyan militia Ansar Al-Sharia and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have surfaced, there have been no “smoking guns” that the latter helped plan the attack, counter to conservative claims.
While Ayotte and others attempt to learn where the change came from, former CIA Direct David Petraeus has already informed Congress that the talking points used by Rice were approved by the CIA, despite GOP concerns about the original content being changed at the Deputies Committee-level of the National Security Council. The White House has also denied that the edit came from it specifically, having only swapped the word “consulate” for “mission.”
The hunt for the editor of Rice’s talking points is just the latest of the attacks against the Obama administration that have sprung up in the aftermath of Benghazi. Aside from the reference to the “fourteen days” President Obama spent before calling the attack terrorism, Ayotte ran through several other previously debunked hits during her interview. Among them were that an anti-Muslim video had nothing to do with the motivation for the assault and that Obama’s speech at the United Nations was purposefully misleading about al Qaeda’s role in the attack.
Ayotte also indicated that the State Department knew early on that the attack was launched by Ansar al-Sharia, a local militia group, based on posts on Facebook and Twitter. The last point was not only dismissed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but by independent experts as well.
Despite several ongoing investigations, Ayotte joined Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) last week in calling for a Select Committee to investigate the assault in Benghazi, a call she repeated today. In doing so, she is taking up the mantle of retiring Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), as the third member of a group referred to as “The Three Amigos.” Ayotte’s ascension couldn’t come sooner, as Lieberman has parted from his “amigos” McCain and Graham on the need for a select Committee. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has also already indicated that the Select Committee will not be coming into being any time soon.