Two leading Republicans on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence say that Michael Morell, former deputy director and twice acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency, provided an account of his role on Benghazi that was often highly misleading and at times deliberately false.
“I went back and reviewed some of his testimony the other day and he’s gotten himself in a real box,” says Senator Saxby Chambliss, the highest-ranking Republican on the committee. “It’s really strange. I’ve always thought Mike was a straight-up guy, gave us good briefings—factual, straightforward. I mean, this has really been strange the last few weeks—all this now being uncovered.”
At issue is the central role Morell played in producing the Obama administration’s flawed talking points about the fatal attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, and the misleading answers he provided to lawmakers who investigated them.
The allegations of misconduct are serious. In the “additional views” portion of the recent Senate Intelligence Committee report, six Republican members accuse Morell of lying in sworn testimony to Congress. Several Republican senators tell The Weekly Standard that Morell misled them in one-on-one or small-group meetings about the talking points. Morell—now counselor to Beacon Global Strategies, a consultancy close to Hillary Clinton—did not respond to a request for comment.
Three aspects of the controversy are drawing particular interest: (1) Morell’s obfuscation of his central role in rewriting the talking points, (2) Morell’s contention that the FBI rewrote the talking points, and (3) Morell’s false claim that the talking points were provided to the White House merely as a heads-up and not for coordination.
(1) Who Revised the Talking Points?
Within days of the Benghazi attacks, it was clear that major elements of the Obama administration’s public story about the events were dubious. Within weeks, investigators on the Senate Intelligence Committee learned that the unclassified “talking points” provided by the CIA to members of Congress and top administration officials told a different story than the classified intelligence. “We were seeing the classified stuff and then we see the unclassified talking points,” recalls one lawmaker with access to the intelligence. “It just didn’t match up.”
Among the changes: Early drafts referred to “al Qaeda” and “attacks,” while later drafts did not. So lawmakers began to ask questions.
On November 15, 2012, four top intelligence officials appeared before the Senate committee to answer questions about Benghazi: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; Matthew Olsen, head of the National Counterterrorism Center; Patrick Kennedy, under secretary of state for management; and Morell, acting director of the CIA.
Chambliss says he grilled the officials about changes made to the talking points. “I went down the line. I said: ‘Okay, guys, did you change the talking points?’ Every one of them said no.”
The questioning might not have been that precise, according to sources familiar with the hearing, but much of the hearing was devoted to uncovering how the talking points had been put together and who had made the changes. Morell volunteered nothing.
Senator Richard Burr was more specific. The senator asked each witness if he knew who had been responsible for changing the word “attacks” to “demonstrations.” Again, denials down the line. “I think that Mike answered what he felt he was asked,” says Burr. “But there was clearly enough that he knew that he could have shortcut this process.”
A similar process played out at a hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that same day. Clapper, as the top U.S. intelligence official, was asked if he knew who had revised the talking points. His answer: I don’t. According to three officials in the room, the other intelligence officials also indicated that they didn’t know who had made the changes, but their answers were nonverbal and thus do not appear in the transcript. Representative Peter King reported after the hearing that the officials had claimed not to know who had changed the language. The denials were widely reported.