State Department Pushed to Cut Mention of Prior Attacks from Benghazi Talking Points

State Department Pushed to Cut Mention of Prior Attacks from Benghazi Talking Points

This afternoon the White House released a 100 pages of repetitive emails from September 14th and 15th. The emails confirm that the State Department was deeply concerned about a bullet point highlighting prior attacks in Benghazi.

The email release shows that individuals inside the White House were sent copies of the talking points earlier than previously reported. Ben Rhodes, a top Obama adviser, received a draft at 3:04PM on Sep. 14th. This early draft still referred to “attacks” rather than “demonstrations” at the Consulate. Tommy Vietor, the National Security Spokesman, also received these early drafts of the talking points.

By 6:21PM, Vietor had responded with a suggestion that certain parts of the talking points might be of concern to State, saying “Denis would like to make sure the highlighted portions are full [sic] coordinated with the State Department in the event that they get inquiries.”

The pdfs of the talking points are not high quality and it is difficult to tell which portions have been “highlighted.” However, looking closely it does appear as if sections of bullet point 4–a list of prior attacks in Benghazi–may have been highlighted. At 6:24PM, the State Department was looped in to the conversation.

Shortly afterwards, at  7:16PM, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland replied, “The line about ‘knowing’ there were extremists among the demonstrators will come back to us at the podium–how do we know, who were they, etc.” The CIA responded at 7:29PM “Can we soften this a bit?”

The tone changes at 7:39PM when Nuland writes “I now understand that these are being prepared to give to Members of Congress to use with the media. On that basis I have serious concerns about all the parts highlighted below…” Nuland says she doesn’t want to “prejudice the investigation” but then adds “the penultimate point could be abused by Members [of Congress] to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings so why do we want to feed that either. Concerned…”

At this point, the email chain published by the White House is disjointed and it is once again not clear which portions of the talking points were “highlighted below” by Victoria Nuland. At 7:52 the CIA responded that they were awaiting response from the FBI about prejudicing the investigation.

A bit later, at 8:59pm, David Adams the Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs at the State Department chimed in saying “I’m with Toria [Nuland]. The last bullet especially will read like we had been repeatedly warned.” Though he says the last bullet, he seems to be indicating the penultimate one that Nuland had also expressed concern about. At the time it read:

The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists
linked to al-Qa’ida in Benghazi and eastern Libya.  These noted that,
since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign
interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June
attack against the British Ambassador’s convoy. We cannot rule out the
individuals has previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also
contributing to the efficacy of the attacks.

As the night wore on, others described the response from State as a serious pushback. At 9:15PM the CIA wrote “Here’s where we stand as of this hour…The State Department had major reservations with much or most of the document. We revised the document with their concerns in mind.” [Emphasis added] A new draft of the talking points was attached.

At 9:24PM Nuland responded “These don’t resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership. They are consulting with NSS [National Security Spokesman at the White House].” At 9:32 Jacob Sullivan wrote a response “Talked to Tommy [Vietor, NSS spokesman]–we can make edits.”

At 9:43PM an update from the CIA “Fyi FBI says AQ {not AQIM} was involved and they are pursuing that theory. So we are not ahead of law enforcement now.”

At 9:52PM the CIA sends out a draft which is going to be sent to the “DIRECTOR” explaining what has taken place. It reads in part “We’ve tried to work the draft talking points for HPSCI [Congress] through the coordination process but have run into major problems…The White House  cleared quickly, but State has major concerns.”

On page 63 of the email release is a version of the talking points with nearly everything crossed out. It’s not clear from the way this was released, who crossed this out or at what time.

Finally, at 12:37PM the next day, “MichaelJM” writes of the final draft of the talking points “I spoke to the Director earlier about State’s deep concerns about mentioning the warnings and the other work done on this…”

Reading the entire chain, it appears the White House initially alerted State that some language might be of concern. Once Victoria Nuland realized the talking points were headed to Congress for use with the media, she and “building leadership” wanted references to prior attacks taken out.

The emails confirm that State was deeply concerned about being blamed by Congress and that those concerns were heeded by the White House and CIA.

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White House, The Conversation, Benghazi, State Department

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