With questions swirling about whether the Obama administration — and, specifically, U.N. ambassador and possible future Secretary of State Susan Rice — intentionally misled the American people about the deadly attack in Benghazi two months ago, Congress turned to scandal-plagued former CIA Director David Petraeus today to set the record straight.
The main big political debate right now is whether Rice accurately represented the CIA's best intelligence, as provided to her in a set of talking points, when she went on five talk shows the Sunday after the assault and referred to the attacks as growing out of spontaneous protests. The White House says yes, various Republicans say no. So what did Petraeus say about it? Reuters reports:
Former CIA Director David Petraeus told Congress on Friday that he and the spy agency had sought to make clear from the outset that September's deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, involved an al Qaeda affiliate, lawmakers said.
Oh, so the GOP is right? Not really, says the AP:
[L]awmakers said Petraeus testified that the CIA's draft talking points written in response to the assault on the diplomat post in Benghazi that killed four Americans referred to it as a terrorist attack. But Petraeus told the lawmakers that reference was removed from the final version, although he wasn't sure which federal agency deleted it.
So Rice did accurately reflect the CIA's talking points, but only because somebody outside of the CIA had watered them down. Maybe Rice is off the hook, but that definitely sounds like a conspiracy! Or not. The AP continues:
Democrats said Petraeus made it clear the change was not made for political reasons during President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.
"The general was adamant there was no politicization of the process, no White House interference or political agenda," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. "He completely debunked that idea."
Then why alter the talking points at all? AP still:
The recently resigned spy chief explained that references to terrorist groups suspected of carrying out the violence were removed from the public explanation of what caused the attack so as not to tip off the groups that the U.S. intelligence community was on their trail. ...
"There was an interagency process to draft it, not a political process," Schiff said. "They came up with the best assessment without compromising classified information or source or methods. So changes were made to protect classified information."
So there was a conspiracy ... to catch the terrorists. According to Huffington Post, John McCain, "who also attended the Petraeus briefing, said nothing in his remarks afterward about Rice or his demand for an investigation by a new select panel."