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The Benghazi Cover-up (cont.)

How the CIA’s No. 2 misled Congress

Mar 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 24 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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“When U.S. intelligence officials testified behind closed doors two weeks ago, they were asked point blank whether they had altered the talking points on which U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice based her comments about the Benghazi attacks that have turned into a political firestorm,” read a Reuters story on November 28. “Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, acting CIA Director Michael Morell and National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen each said no, according to two congressional sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.”

For two weeks, the official public position of the intelligence community was that no one knew who had made the changes. In private meetings with lawmakers, on Capitol Hill and at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Morell denied that he had played any significant role in writing or revising the talking points.

Without any answers, members of the congressional oversight committees pressed the White House to turn over emails and other documents pertaining to the talking points. For months, the administration refused, citing the deliberative process inside the executive branch. But when the president decided to nominate John Brennan to run the CIA, Republicans in the Senate finally had some leverage. Several threatened to block Brennan’s nomination unless the administration cooperated more fully on Benghazi. Eventually, the White House made available on a “read-only” basis nearly 100 pages of emails between top intelligence and Obama administration officials.

Those emails, which the White House gave reporters in May 2013, showed Morell had been a key player in rewriting the talking points. In fact, a September 15 email to Susan Rice described a secure video teleconference in which Morell told others on the call that he had rewritten the talking points and would be happy to revise them further in consultation with top advisers to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. The email reports: “Morell noted that these points were not good and he had taken a heavy editing hand to them. He noted that he would be happy to work with Jake Sullivan [State Department] and [Ben] Rhodes [White House] to develop appropriate talking points.”

The messages contradicted claims from Jay Carney and other top administration officials that neither the White House nor the State Department had played any role in revising the substance of the talking points. Among others, top State Department officials expressed concern about the contents of the talking points and, in consultation with “building leadership,” pushed for changes. 

Carney was grilled on the contradictions at the White House press briefing on May 10, 2013, after The Weekly Standard and ABC News reported on the emails.

“On Benghazi, and with all due credit to my colleague on the right,” a reporter asked Carney, “we have had emails showing that the State Department pushed back against talking-point language from the CIA and expressed concern about how some of the information would be used politically in Congress. You have said the White House only made a stylistic change here, but these were not stylistic changes. These were content changes. So again, what role did the White House play, not just in making but in directing changes that took place to these?”

Carney explained the process, downplaying the administration’s role. Then he got specific. “The CIA—in this case, deputy director of the CIA—took that process and issued a set of talking points on that Saturday morning, and those talking points were disseminated.”

Five days later, when the White House released the emails, the administration enlisted Morell to participate in two background press briefings. While the emails themselves showed robust and sometimes contentious exchanges between top officials, Morell told reporters that he had been responsible for most of the substantive changes.

That’s quite a reversal. In November 2012, Morell had dodged responsibility during congressional hearings and misled lawmakers in private meetings. Then in May, the White House spokesman told the world that Mike Morell had been in charge of the process that produced the talking points, and Morell privately told reporters the same thing. 

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