ABC News published on Friday what it promoted as an “exclusive” report purportedly uncovering new and seemingly damning evidence implicating the Obama administration in its handling of talking points it generated in the aftermath of the terror attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya last September.
The report boiled down to two main points: that State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland — a former Dick Cheney aide — objected to including information in the talking points noting that the CIA had issued previous warnings that there was a threat to U.S. assets in Benghazi from al-Qaeda-linked groups because, Nuland said in an email, it “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that either?”
The second point was that Nuland objected to naming the terror groups the U.S. believed were involved in the attack because, she said, “we don’t want to prejudice the investigation.”
And with that, the ABC report suggests the State Department “scrubbed” the talking points of terror references as some sort of nefarious cover-up of what really happened in Benghazi for political reasons. This, of course, playing into the GOP’s conspiracy theory that President Obama was trying to preserve his campaign theme that his policies had significantly crippled the terror network.
But absent in ABC’s report is the key point that Obama and various members of his administration referred to the Benghazi assault as a terror attack on numerous occasions shortly after the incident (thereby negating the need to “scrub” any references in the talking points) and that then-CIA Director David Petraeus said the terrorist references were taken out to, as the New York Times reported, “avoid tipping off the groups” that may have been involved.
Moreover, an update to the ABC report undermines the notion that Nuland’s motives were campaign related or political:
A source familiar with the White House emails on the Benghazi talking point revisions say that State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland was raising two concerns about the CIA’s first version of talking points, which were going to be sent to Congress: 1) The talking points went further than what she was allowed to say about the attack during her state department briefings; and, 2) she believed the CIA was attempting to exonerate itself at the State Department’s expense by suggesting CIA warnings about the security situation were ignored.
In other words, ABC’s “exclusive” reveals a turf battle, not some cover-up. As it turns out, the story is more about how talking points are generated in the interagency process, a point the Hill newspaper took notice of in its headline reporting on ABC’s story:
Indeed, as Media Matters’ Jeremy Holden noted, “ABC is left with a major exclusive dissecting the distinction between input and editing.”