ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) - The White House did not heavily alter talking points about the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, an official said on Saturday.
“If there were adjustments made to them within the intelligence community, that’s common, and that’s something they would have done themselves,” Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, told reporters. “The only edit ... made by the White House was the factual edit as to how to refer to the facility.”
After a closed-door hearing with former CIA Director David Petraeus on Friday, Republican Representative Peter King said that unclassified talking points prepared by the CIA for use by lawmakers about the September 11 attack originally pointed specifically to al Qaeda involvement. King said they were edited before being cleared for use.
Rhodes said the White House, and also the State Department, changed references to the diplomatic facility as a “consulate,” “because the consulate in Benghazi was not formally a consulate. Other than that we worked off the points that were provided by the intelligence community, so I can’t speak to any other edits that may have been made.”
The assault on the U.S. mission and nearby CIA annex in Benghazi has turned into a flash point between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republicans.
Republicans accuse the White House and in particular the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, of misleading the public just after the attack by suggesting the assault was a spontaneous act instead of a planned terrorist operation. The Obama administration denies misleading anyone and says it discussed information about the Benghazi tragedy as it came in.
“What I can say is those points, and what Susan said, indicated that we believed extremists were involved in this attack,” Rhodes said.
When asked on Fox News on Saturday who might have made the edits, King said he did not know.
“That’s why it’s important to find out why it was done. It could be anywhere in the Defense Department, the State Department, the Justice Department, the White House,” King said. “(We need) to find out why it was done, what the purpose of it was.”
He added: “I have my own beliefs, that for whatever reasons, the administration honestly believes that the war against al Qaeda is pretty much over and that’s the message that they wanted to present. But on the other hand, they may have some valid reason. I think we have to look at it.”
(The story changes to consulate from conflict in fourth paragraph.)
Reporting By Jeff Mason, Additional reporting by Doug Palmer in Washington, Writing by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Bill Trott and Eric Walsh