WASHINGTON — Senior State Department officials pressed for changes in the talking points that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice used after the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya last September, expressing concerns that Congress might criticize the Obama administration for ignoring warnings of a growing threat in Benghazi.
An interim report by Republicans on five House committees last month had detailed how the talking points were changed, days after the Sept. 11 attack and in the heat of the 2012 presidential campaign.
The White House has insisted that it made only stylistic changes to the intelligence agency talking points in which Rice suggested that protests over an anti-Islamic video set off the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Before the presidential election, the administration said Rice’s talking points were based on the best intelligence assessments available in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
But the report and the new details Friday suggest a greater degree of White House and State Department involvement.
Republicans have suggested that the Obama administration sought to play down the possibility of terrorism during the campaign and has misled the country. A senior administration official reiterated Friday that the talking points were based on intelligence assessments and developed during an interagency process, which included the CIA, officials from the Director of National Intelligence, State Department, FBI and the Justice Department.
Last Sept. 14, two days before Rice’s appearance, the CIA’s initial draft of the talking points referred to Islamic extremists taking part in the attack in Benghazi, possible links to Islamic extremist group Ansar al-Sharia, a CIA assessment of threats from extremists linked to al-Qaida and a mention of five previous attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi.