On Wednesday Representative Trey Gowdy read an email between top State Department officials sent on September 12th that said “the group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al-Sharia, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists.” On Thursday the State Department claimed that the use of the word “terrorists” is inaccurate. Though State Department Deputy Spokesman didn’t clarify, he seemed to imply that the word “extremists” was instead. Ventrell said that the State Department is working directly with Congressmen to resolve the inaccuracy in the record.
QUESTION: A couple of hours ago, the House Speaker, John Boehner, came out asking for release of some emails that were released by a senior State Department official, that she had emailed her superiors that she had relayed to the Libyan Ambassador that it was Islamic terrorists who were responsible for the attack. Do you have any comments on what House Speaker Boehner has asked for?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, so this is related to an email, part of which was read by one of the members yesterday and entered into the record. My understanding is that aspects of this correspondence may have been inadvertently entered into the record incorrectly, and so we’re working with the members and with the House to correct that record to make sure if there was an inaccurate piece of that. This has to do with the word “extremist.”
QUESTION: Well, they’re claiming it was an email that they were given but they weren’t allowed to keep. So it comes directly off of this email that she had sent.
MR. VENTRELL: Right, and we’ve worked with – and this is something we talked about, I believe, last week, where to get the Hill the extensive documents that they were looking for – this is 25,000-some-odd documents, we allowed them to have them in-camera to get them to them as quickly as possible. In terms of specifically sharing different emails through the redaction process and the standard process, that’s a different one and I can’t —
QUESTION: Well, let’s just get to the —
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: — gist of the email —
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: — the gist of which is that Assistant Secretary Jones said to the leadership of this building that she informed the Libyan Government that the U.S. believed that this was a terrorist attack and knew the group that was responsible, which would directly contradict the Administration’s assertion that this was a protest at first.
MR. VENTRELL: And again, Elise, one of the concerns is the way that the email was read, there was a potential inadvertent inaccuracy in the use of the word “terrorist.”
QUESTION: Well, an extremist who launches an attack against an embassy is not a terrorist?
MR. VENTRELL: Again – and I think what this goes back to is the talking points issue about the later intelligence assessments. And so this is something that we’ve talked about in the past, and these are – and we were very clear about this at the time – just to be clear, these talking points were developed during an interagency process led by the CIA about how to communicate the best and most current information the Administration had about the Benghazi attacks.
QUESTION: Right, but, I mean, this building never said that the incident was the result of a spontaneous protest. And if I remember, a senior State Department official briefing reporters the night before the last Benghazi hearing, which – I can’t remember, was it in October or – I don’t even remember, but – said, even acknowledged, that this building never said that there was a protest, that it had always maintained it was a terrorist attack. And I also believe that Under Secretary Kennedy, when he testified, said that the State Department never said that there was a protest involved. So it seems to be that there’s a discrepancy between what this building viewed as a terrorist attack versus what the larger Administration called the result of a spontaneous protest.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, remember, these were CIA talking points, and the draft talking points circulated referred to demonstrations that were spontaneously inspired.
QUESTION: Right, but didn’t the —
MR. VENTRELL: That was something that we’re —
QUESTION: No, but the State Department never – to my understanding, and I know through public comments and private comments – never supported the line that there was a protest.
QUESTION: Well, one of the points —
MR. VENTRELL: Again, let me clarify. These were interagency points that were drafted by the CIA and cleared through their interagency. I can’t get into every aspect of that process, but this, as the intelligence community has testified, was the best information, consensus information, that they had at the time.
QUESTION: Including the State Department, who never believed that it was a terrorist attack, signed off on talking points that said that it was a protest?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we did – I think you said terrorist attacks. We said extremist from the beginning, but regardless, this was an interagency process that was – this has been testified on the Hill repeatedly.
QUESTION: Well, I think the point that the House Speaker is making, that is, to clarify this – why won’t you then release these emails so that it can be seen by —
MR. VENTRELL: And we’re following up directly with the House leadership and with the membership on this issue as we speak. I mean, this happened an hour or two ago, and so we’re following up with the House directly.
QUESTION: You are going to go back to them and follow —
MR. VENTRELL: We are following up with them directly on this issue.
QUESTION: And then will you allow that to be released publicly or will that be up to the committee?
MR. VENTRELL: I’d have to check on that in terms of redactions or any other legal issues, but it’s something that we’re clarifying with the House directly.