Benghazi talking points e-mails a bust?

posted at 8:41 am on February 27, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee finally received yesterday what they had demanded for months — and it may have turned into an anti-climax. The White House allowed access to internal e-mails of the Obama administration regarding the preparation of talking points for Susan Rice after the attack on our Benghazi consulate, which some suspected would show that the Obama administration had changed the information to downplay terrorism as the basis of the attack.  According to Chad Pergram at Fox, though, the e-mails don’t show anything like that (via Kevin Glass):

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee today received a classified briefing by an administration official on the various emails and documents assembled in the days after the September 11th attack in Benghazi. These emails were the precursor of the “talking points” which the administration then armed UN Ambassador Susan Rice and other officials with.

One source familiar with the briefing indicated that they did not believe the emails shed any new light on anything that was not already known and said the messages did not demonstrate an effort by the administration to deliberately downplay the role of “al Qai’da” or “terrorists.”

They did, however, show CIA Director nominee John Brennan involved in the creation of those talking points:

President Obama’s pick to head the CIA was involved in crafting controversial talking points about last year’s attack in Benghazi, Republicans said Tuesday after viewing intelligence documents.

Lawmakers had vowed to block John Brennan’s nomination unless they got to see internal communications about how to describe the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Several said the email chain of several pages, which they’d been seeking for months, doesn’t change how they plan to vote either way.

“Brennan was involved,” Senate Intelligence Committee Vice-Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said after the briefing. “It’s pretty obvious what happened.”

“At the end of the day it should have been pretty easy to determine who made the changes and what changes were made.”

He described an “extensive, bureaucratic and frankly unnecessary process” that led to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations publicly linking the attack to a peaceful protest gone awry. Republicans have accused the White House of twisting the talking points to avoid harming Obama’s national security reputation ahead of the November elections.

If that was what the GOP hoped to find, it looks like — so far, anyway — they’ve come up empty.  Brennan’s involvement in crafting the talking points might make a case for incompetence as an excuse to oppose his confirmation, but Chuck Hagel just gave the all-time confirmation hearing flame-out, and he ended up cruising to success.  Brennan has served for decades in the intelligence business, and acquitted himself well in his earlier hearing, at least in terms of competence.

Chambliss is right about the “extensive, bureaucratic and frankly unnecessary process” that led to the Rice faceplant, but he’ll either have to hope that Brennan reforms it or it will creak along for another four years.  When the Senate votes on Brennan’s confirmation tomorrow, it will almost certainly be more lopsided in his favor than Hagel’s.


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