White House made only minor alteration over wording on Benghazi, says report
The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee report said the White House was only responsible for a minor change. Some Republicans had questioned whether the presidential staff rewrote the talking points for political reasons.
The committee, headed by independent Senator Joe Lieberman and Republican Senator Susan Collins, also said the director of national intelligence has been stonewalling the panel in holding back a promised timeline of the changes.
US Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the September 11 attack last year.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said she used the talking points to say in interviews on September 16 that it may have been a protest that got out of hand.
Rice's incorrect explanation may have cost her a chance to be nominated as the next secretary of state, as Senate Republicans publicly said they would not vote to confirm her.
The State Department last month acknowledged major weaknesses in security and errors in judgment exposed in an independent report. Two top state officials appealed to Congress to fully fund requests to ensure diplomats and embassies are safe.
Senior State Department officials said serious management and leadership failures left the diplomatic mission in Benghazi woefully unprepared for the terrorist attack.
Eight days after the attack, National Counterterrorism Centre director Matthew Olsen told the Homeland committee the four Americans died "in the course of a terrorist attack".
The same day, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the department stood by the intelligence community's assessment. The next day presidential spokesman Jay Carney said, "It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the words "terrorist attack" on September 21.
Olsen's acknowledgement was important, the report said, because talking points prepared by intelligence officials the previous week had undergone major changes.
A line saying "we know" individuals associated with al-Qaeda or its affiliates participated in the attacks was changed to say, "There are indications that extremists participated." The talking points dropped the reference to al-Qaeda and its affiliates and a reference to "attacks" was changed to "demonstrations".
The committee said the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, and representatives from the CIA, State Department, counter-intelligence centre and the FBI told the panel the changes were made within the CIA and intelligence community.
The only White House change substituted a reference of "consulate" to "mission."