WaPo fact checker: Who rewrote the Benghazi talking points?

posted at 10:01 am on May 7, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Give Glenn Kessler credit; he was almost alone among the mainstream media in immediately calling Susan Rice’s explanation of the attack on the Benghazi consulate fishy, awarding her two Pinocchios at the time. (Perhaps not too much credit, says Ann Althouse, via Instapundit.)  Should that get bumped up now that whistleblowers are prepared to blow the Obama administration’s fairy tale on Benghazi out of the water?  Kessler argues, correctly, that the better question is who crafted the four-Pinocchio lie, and to what purpose:

Some readers have suggested we should boost the Pinocchio rating for Rice’s comments. Still, it is clear Rice was simply mouthing the words given to her. The bigger mystery now is who was involved in writing — and rewriting — the talking points.

The talking points have become important because, in the midst of President Obama’s reelection campaign, for a number of days they helped focus the journalistic narrative on an anti-Islam video — and away from a preplanned attack. As we noted in our timeline of administration statements, it took two weeks for the White House to formally acknowledge that Obama believed the attack was terrorism. …

The version as of Friday morning, Sept. 14, 2012, was rather fulsome, saying that “Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda participated in the attack” and mentioning the militant group Ansar al-Sharia.

But a senior State Department official — identified by the Weekly Standard as State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland — strongly objected to this draft. The CIA made some changes but apparently it was not enough. Nuland said in an e-mail that the edits did not “resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership” and that the State Department’s leadership “was consulting with [National Security Staff.]”

Minutes later, a White House official (said to be Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications) e-mailed to say that the State Department’s concerns would need to be addressed and the issue would be resolved at a meeting the next day at the White House.

The result, after the meeting, was a wholesale rewriting of the talking points. The House report says “the actual edits, including deleting all references to al-Qaeda, were made by a current high-ranking CIA official,” which the Weekly Standard identifies as Deputy Director Mike Morell.

Oddly, in November, three GOP senators released a statement saying that Morell had told them that the references to al-Qaeda had been removed by the FBI — but then six hours later the CIA contacted them to say Morell “misspoke” and instead the CIA had actually made those deletions. His own apparent role appears not to have been mentioned.

Kessler’s right, but his scope is too narrow.  The rewrite has always appeared to be a cover-up from the White House and/or State Department — and make no mistake, the CIA wouldn’t be carrying water for Hillary Clinton and State.  The big question is: what were they trying to cover?  In my column for The Week, I argue that the context is much broader, and it’s perhaps even more relevant today than ever:

Recall that the attack took place in the middle of the general election, just a couple of weeks after the party conventions. Obama and the Democrats had just argued that the administration’s foreign-policy successes, including the intervention in Libya, showed that America had a steady and seasoned commander-in-chief, and that voters should think twice before electing an untried Mitt Romney.

On the ground in Benghazi, however, the truth was that the sudden vacuum of power had liberated not eastern Libya but the Islamist terrorist networks that had long operated there. Militias competed with the weak central government’s forces for control of Benghazi, and terrorists ran much of what lay outside of the city. Other Western nations packed up their diplomatic installations and headed back to Tripoli, but not the United States. Instead, the U.S. kept its consulate open while reducing its security forces even in the face of intelligence of increasing danger, and escalating attacks on Western assets. …

To ask Clinton’s question again, what difference at this point would it have made? It’s possible that the team could have gotten on the ground in time to repel the second attack, although the timing would have been close. If the hearings focus on this one issue, though, it will miss the real failures in Benghazi.

The administration’s intervention in Libya created a power vacuum in eastern Libya, which it refused to acknowledge, and which eventually led not just to this attack but the near-sacking of Mali, which was prevented only by the French military. Instead, State under Clinton reduced the security at this outpost while our allies fled the city, even while nearby terrorist attacks increased. No one in State or the White House prepared for the obvious al Qaeda interest in attacking vulnerable American assets on the anniversary of 9/11. When the inevitable happened, rather than putting all our assets in play to fight the terrorists, the first impulse of Obama and Clinton seems to have been to deny that a terrorist attack had taken place at all as a means of covering up the gross incompetence of the past year in Libya.

With the administration beating war drums over the use of chemical weapons in Syria, if somewhat half-heartedly, a full and honest accounting of Benghazi and the Obama administration’s Libya policies in general makes a great deal of difference at this or any other point.

The point of the cover-up wasn’t just to preserve the argument that Barack Obama had fatally weakened al-Qaeda, which few really believed anyway.  It was to preserve the foreign-policy expertise argument in the 2012 presidential election, and to keep American voters from seeing the true scope of the disaster of Obama’s intervention in Libya.  And that matters even more now, with the same administration considering another 30,00o-foot intervention that would end up once again benefiting al-Qaeda affiliates on the ground.

Michael Ramirez argues that it matters in another way — that the cover-up of Benghazi is at least as bad as that of Watergate, and perhaps worse, since no one died in Watergate and we didn’t lose a consulate to terrorists:


Also, be sure to check out Ramirez’ terrific collection of his works: Everyone Has the Right to My Opinion, which covers the entire breadth of Ramirez’ career, and it gives fascinating look at political history.  Read my review here, and watch my interviews with Ramirez here and here.  And don’t forget to check out the entire Investors.com site, which has now incorporated all of the former IBD Editorials, while individual investors still exist.

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Please tell us why you believe her Lie in that video about the video was in fact true, and we’ll go from there.

Del Dolemonte on May 7, 2013 at 5:12 PM

“We’ve seen rage and violence directed at American embassies over an awful internet video that we had nothing do to with.”

Is that the ‘lie’ you refer to?

verbaloon on May 7, 2013 at 5:22 PM

Yes. Now please tell us why you believe she was telling the truth when she said those words. And why you are desperately bending over backwards to give her and O’bama the benefit of the doubt in this matter, when we know you would have never done had this tragedy happened on Bush and Rice’s Watch.

But before doing so, please remember that many folks here on the Right Side of the blogosphere confirmed last fall that when she said those words, youtube’s own records (the view count for the video) showed that hardly anyone had viewed that “evil video” at the time she Lied about it on TV. You are familiar with the mechanics of youtube view counts, aren’t you?


Del Dolemonte on May 7, 2013 at 5:33 PM

verbaluce on May 7, 2013 at 5:29 PM

You’re a sad figure for typing that comment. If you don’t know it, you can’t be helped.

I told you immediately after it happened what was behind it. Amb. Stevens should have been in the bunker of the main embassy, in Tripoli, that day. It’s the MO of all major embassies, on such days. All else went sour from there and is a huuuuuge cover up, to keep Obama in power.

It’s very sad that you, of all the trolls, are as insane as all the others on this topic.

Schadenfreude on May 7, 2013 at 5:33 PM

Paul Mirengoff at Power Line:

When it first became clear that the CIA’s Benghazi talking points had been altered, many of us viewed the White House as the prime suspect. After all, it served President Obama’s political purposes to claim, at the height of a political campaign in which he was taking credit for the fall of al Qaeda, that the death of a U.S. ambassador was down to spontaneous outrage over a video, rather than pre-planned terrorism.

It turns out, however, that the State Department was the prime culprit. It was State that pushed back hard against the original talking points. The White House, probably for the political reason cited above, took its side.

Why did State want the talking points changed? Because it had ignored warnings about rising terrorist activity in Libya and had reduced security rather than beefing it up, as our embassy requested.


Was Hillary Clinton directly involved in this cover-up? It’s difficult to see how she could not have been.

As I understand it, when State pushed back against the CIA’s talking points, a White House meeting was scheduled to thrash out the issue. One can imagine Clinton failing to keep apprised of something as mundane as a mounting threat to be safety of her personnel in Libya. But surely she was in the loop when it came to a bureaucratic struggle about how our U.N. ambassador was going to spin the Benghazi debacle. And surely, her representatives would not attend the meeting in which that bureaucratic struggle was to be resolved without being able to state the desires of the Secretary of State.

Hillary Clinton, then, is culpable at the front end of the Benghazi disaster — when she and/or her agents ignored requests for enhanced security — and at the back end — when she and her agents engineered an attempted cover-up.

Del Dolemonte on May 7, 2013 at 5:36 PM

Media, most of you, suffocate from consuming Obama’s shit. It ain’t Beluga caviar and you all deserve to be depleted of oxygen over such dereliction of duty.

Schadenfreude on May 7, 2013 at 5:37 PM

Send in the clowns…

verbaluce on May 7, 2013 at 5:29 PM

Why, you are already here. Your histrionics continues to amuse. You aren’t interested in a genuine investigation. You’re a pathetic little hack with your head so far up Obama’s azz it’s comical. Oh, and who is going to lead a genuine investigations? The democrats? The State Dept? The media? ROFLMAO!!!!! Your pathetic attempts to chastise commenters here who want the truth are a laugh riot.

Now phuck off and go back to blowing your Obama doll.

HumpBot Salvation on May 7, 2013 at 5:37 PM

Petraeus should burn in Hell on Earth, and then some.

Schadenfreude on May 7, 2013 at 5:37 PM

verbie you lost your 2% of credibility on this thread. You are now the same as all the others, sadly.

Schadenfreude on May 7, 2013 at 5:38 PM

Obama, McCain and Rubio were fully pushing the Libya invasion.

Obama owns Benghazi.

Hillary owns Benghazi.

Benghazi proved, without a shred of doubt, that Hillary is as dumb at 3:00a.m., when the phone rings, as is Obama.

Obama flew to Vegas to campaing, the next day, after he’d gone to sleep after being told the embassy was on fire.

Some caring characters they are.

Most derelict are the parents of Amb. Stevens. Were they not so leftist they’d have pushed for answers before the election. How derelict are they?

Schadenfreude on May 7, 2013 at 5:41 PM

verbie, you’re needed on the Sheila Jackson Lee thread.

Schadenfreude on May 7, 2013 at 5:44 PM

Based on actual documents and official releases (not the alleged secret hidden ones) the admin’s statements reflected that which they were getting from the CIA. The information evolved as time went on.
There is nothing that shows at any time the WH officially offering up anything that stood in contradiction to what they were being provided by intelligence services.
There is nothing that shows them knowingly providing false info.

verbaluce on May 7, 2013 at 5:17 PM

Yeah sorry no. Based on the various revisions to the “talking points” out there, it’s pretty clear they were edited in a way that made it possible to push the patently false youtube video narrative, i.e. removed all references to AQ, Ansar al-Sharia, weapons and militants in Libya. To say their later statements reflect what they got from the CIA … lol.

rightmind on May 7, 2013 at 5:45 PM

Schadenfreude on May 7, 2013 at 5:33 PM

And as I offered back then, a valid point to question why Stevens wasn’t more secure…or provided with more security.

(And thanks…but I’ll leave you to whatever i going on re: Shelia Jackson.)

verbaluce on May 7, 2013 at 6:01 PM

There is nothing that shows them knowingly providing false info.

verbaluce on May 7, 2013 at 5:17 PM

You’re lying, verbaluce.

blink on May 7, 2013 at 5:57 PM

Yea…everyone’s lying.

verbaluce on May 7, 2013 at 6:02 PM

Benghazi Embassy:

The official told story, as of now seems to be falling apart at a fast and ferocious paced. Just thinking about some things that may not mean anything but here goes!

Looking back to the internet posting of 11-13 September 2012, there are literally 10,000’s posting stating in one manner or another that Sam Bacile and his film caused the riots that caused the deaths. Then almost nothing until he is arrested and gets 1 year in federal prison for parole violation. Then nothing after that he seems to completely disappear of the grid. There seems to be some indication that he may be out and under Federal protection but nothing provable.

The internet acts fast BUT 10,000’s postings all pointing to a film, with in 24 hrs, look a lot more like a mass mailing then news and opinion reporting. There is very limited evidence of any sustainability of outrage.

Next thing I fine most interesting is: If all this was outrage caused by the film, then why is the film still available on Youtube and no one in the world cares anymore?

Just all seems a bit strained of ones imagination.

jpcpt03 on May 7, 2013 at 6:23 PM

You are trying way too hard with that line.

verbaluce on May 7, 2013 at 3:59 PM

Nope. Go back and read the thread.

‘Well of course it bothers you. You are predisposed to be bothered by virtually any irrelevant detail presented as some piece of some mysterious puzzle.’

Um, it would bother me if ANY Commander-in-Chief did it. I was and still am bothered about what was said in the lead up to the Iraq War.

And of course how perfect that you’re troubled by a conversation he did NOT have. What does it mean? Well maybe not much.

Um, it means that he was NOT acting as a Commander-in-Chief should when the first Ambassador in 33 years has gone missing – he wasn’t told until the following morning that Stevens had died even though it was known before then.

Why would any President not be concerned enough to about a missing Ambassador and an attack on the Benghazi consulate? Why would he NOT being in touch with the Secretary of Defence?

Of course something went wrong in Benghazi…Americans died there.

And, we deserve the TRUTH about it.

And if some folks around Obama had concerns about the political angles…well sure as heck so did Mitt Romney. And so did the GOP, DNC, Karl Rove, James Carville, etc.

A sitting American President lied to the American public, his fellow citizens, for political reasons about a terrorist attack and, therefore, was actually covering up the real reason behind the attack: Islamists militants and Al Qaeda in a country that he decided to destabilise by acting militarily without the consent of Congress and during an election when his narrative that ‘GM is alive, OBL is dead, and AQ is on the run.’

But to extrapolate from that all this murderous and nefarious malice and conspiracy and heartless motivations…it’s just drama-queening.

See Bob Scheiffer and Salon mag, to name two, about that.

Resist We Much on May 7, 2013 at 6:37 PM

What’s really a shame is that any genuine investigation into what went wrong and resulted in the tragic deaths over there is thwarted to make room for one of Issa’s circuses.
Send in the clowns…

verbaluce on May 7, 2013 at 5:29 PM

What genuine investigation?

The Mullins-Pickering investigation that failed to interview Hillary Clinton?

The one that would not allow – think how Orwellian that is – Congress access to the survivors and went so far as to change the names of them in their own medical records?

The one that didn’t interview the people on the ground?

The one where the Obama administration said ‘No comment pending the report of the ARB’ and then started squawking that ‘Benghazi happened a long time ago. We need to move on…’?

Resist We Much on May 7, 2013 at 6:54 PM

What’s really a shame is that any genuine investigation into what went wrong and resulted in the tragic deaths over there is thwarted to make room for one of Issa’s circuses.
verbaluce on May 7, 2013 at 5:29 PM

Nice attempt at lowering expectations.
J/K Verbie, that was actually a pathetic attempt.

JusDreamin on May 7, 2013 at 7:15 PM

Instapundit.com [email protected] 4h

Note Hillary still blaming video in funeral speech, long after truth was known. At 16:25-17:45 in video. #Benghazi http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SY81JQZ3_bI

ted c on May 7, 2013 at 7:17 PM

Heck, if the CIA is that dishonest and willing to bend over for politicians in office, why didn’t Hillary ask the CIA to blame Bush????

fred5678 on May 7, 2013 at 5:15 PM

I have known a number of federal agents. Up to a point, most feds just do as they are told and they have good days and bad and weak sisters (excuse the sexism) in different jobs.

As indicated above, the entire video and spontaneous protest meme was absurd from the start. So the obvious question is who was selling it or ordering people to include it in the narrative?

It certainly lived long enough. It was publicly cited by the two Dem POTUS candidates in statements. Money was spent on TV ads in Pakistan.

Repeat, slowly…“money was spent on TV ads in Pakistan”.


And these people control nuclear weapons and a billion rounds of ammo in DHS!

IlikedAUH2O on May 7, 2013 at 7:20 PM

So I see not Bret hair, or bill o idiot is talking about the whistleblowers.mwell there you have it. No big deal mova along

Conservative4ev on May 7, 2013 at 8:04 PM

This week, we will see whether the Leader of the Free World will throw his Former Secretary of State under his now world-famous bus, as he apparently did those 4 brave Americans on that horrible night of September 11, 2012.

It will not surprise anyone if he does.

Harry S. Truman had a plaque on his desk which read,

The Buck Stops Here.

President Barack Hussein Obama has one on his desk, which reads,

It’s Not My Fault.

kingsjester on May 7, 2013 at 11:36 AM

Pretty sure the sign on Obama’s desk reads, “The Buck Stops …. uhhhh, in the Bush Administration.”

There Goes the Neighborhood on May 8, 2013 at 12:23 AM