WASHINGTON — A Senate report has found that the White House did not make major changes in the talking points that administration officials used after the attack on US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Some Republicans had questioned whether the president’s staff rewrote the statements for political reasons.
Instead, the report cited changes made by intelligence agencies, including the FBI and the CIA, in its investigation into the origin of confusing explanations that came from the Obama administration.
The report issued Monday by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said the White House was only responsible for a minor change.
The committee, led by Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent, and Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican, also said the director of national intelligence has been stonewalling the panel in holding back a timeline of the talking point changes.
The US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans were killed in the Sept. 11 attack. The US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said she used the talking points to say in television interviews on Sept. 16 that the attack may have been a protest that got out of hand.
Rice’s incorrect explanation might 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. President Obama instead nominated Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is expected to win easy confirmation.
The State Department acknowledged last month weaknesses in security and errors in judgment exposed in a scathing independent report on the assault. Two top State officials appealed to Congress to fully fund requests to ensure diplomats and embassies are safe.
Testifying before two congressional committees, senior State Department officials acknowledged that serious management and leadership failures left the diplomatic mission in Benghazi woefully unprepared for the terrorist attack. The State Department review board’s report led four department officials to resign.
The Senate report said that on Sept. 19, Matthew Olsen, director at the National Counterterrorism Center, told the Homeland committee that 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, Sept. 20, presidential spokesman Jay Carney said, ‘‘It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack.’’ Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also used the words ‘‘terrorist attack’’ on Sept. 21.
Olsen’s acknowledgement was important, the report said, because talking points prepared the previous week had undergone major changes.
A line saying ‘‘we know’’ individuals associated with Al Qaeda or 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. In addition, 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, National Counterterrorism Center, and FBI told the panel that the changes were made within the CIA and the intelligence community.
The report said the only White House change substituted a reference of ‘‘consulate’’ to ‘‘mission.’’