Former CIA director David Petraeus said last week that the CIA believed al Qaeda was responsible for the attack but that assessment was later taken out of Rice’s talking points after an interagency review, Petraeus said, to deemphasize al Qaeda’s role in the Sept. 11 Benghazi assault in favor of a more general assessment that “extremists” carried out the attack.
Republicans led by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) then accused the White House of making the change to bolster President Obama’s political standing during an election season. “[Rice’s] talking points came from the White House, not from the DNI,” McCain charged last week, referring to the Director of National Intelligence.
Even though Petraeus reportedly told lawmakers that the CIA approved the changes and “there was no politicization of the process,” a CNN report on Monday further debunked McCain’s theory. Intelligence officials said that the intelligence community, not the White House, had changed the talking points. And today, the Times backed that story up with more reporting based on information from “senior” intelligence sources involved saying that none of the edits were made for political reasons:
“Early drafts of the talking points included several analytic judgments that were debated and adjusted during the internal intelligence community coordination process,” said the senior intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue involved classified material. “The adjustments were focused on producing talking points that provided the best information available at the time, protected sensitive details and reflected the evolving nature of rapidly incoming intelligence.”
Officials at the CIA and at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, headed by James R. Clapper, “were all communicating on an email chain, which is normal in our coordination process,” the official said. “Suggestions were being made and implemented in a collaborative manner.”
The CIA drafted the initial talking points, and they were not “edited to minimize the role of extremists, diminish terrorist affiliations, or play down that this was an attack,” said a second U.S. official familiar with how the material was edited
McCain has been attacking Rice for weeks, a campaign that escalated recently to vowing to “block” her potential nomination as the next Secretary of State. But the Arizona Republican appears to be backing off. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and other senators friendly to McCain smacked down his request for a “Watergate-style” investigation into Benghazi. And yesterday, in a statement released after CNN’s report that the White House was not the office that changed Susan Rice’s talking points, McCain didn’t take issue with those facts and instead complained that he didn’t have this information sooner.