WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES (MAY 10, 2013) (NBC) - The Obama administration denied Republican accusations of a cover-up in last year's deadly attack in Libya, moving on Friday (May 10) to defuse a renewed political controversy after a news report said memos on the incident were edited to omit references to a CIA warning of an al Qaeda threat.
ABC News reported emails between the White House, State Department and intelligence agencies about the Benghazi attack went through 12 extensive revisions and were scrubbed clean of warnings about a militant threat.
The ABC report came as Republicans in Congress have stepped up efforts to criticize the Obama administration's response to the attack by suspected Islamist militants, with a growing focus on the role of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a potential Democratic presidential contender in 2016.
The so-called "talking point" memos were used to prepare U.S. Ambassador to theUnited Nations Susan Rice before she appeared on television talk shows to discuss the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in which AmbassadorChristopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
In one email exchange, the State Department's top spokeswoman at the time,Victoria Nuland, objected to including the CIA's reference to intelligence about the threat from al Qaeda in Benghazi and eastern Libya.
That "could be abused by members (of Congress) to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that either? Concerned," Nuland wrote in the email obtained by ABC News.
The mistrust between government agencies revealed in the documents offered an unusual peek into the administration's internal rivalries and displayed a rare crack in its usual discipline about messaging and public image.
White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the administration's handling of the information in a news conference on Friday (May 10), saying the talking points were a collaborative effort that evolved as new information about the attacks emerged. He said there was nothing in the new documents to contradict the administration's claim the talking points were based on intelligence community assessments.
"The White House, as I said, made one minor change to the talking points drafted by and produced by the CIA and even prior to that had very few inputs on it. The other discussions that went on prior to this in an inter-agency process reflected the concerns of a variety of agencies who had a stake in this issue, both the FBI because it was investigating, the CIA obviously and other intelligence agencies, and the State Department because an ambassador had been killed and a diplomatic facility had been attacked, and what I think the concern was is that these points not provide information that was speculative in terms of whether it was relevant to what happened," Carney said.
Democrats have dismissed the Republican attacks as politically motivated and they had not gained much public momentum until this week. The ABC report could draw fresh attention to the allegations, however, and give them new life.
At a high-profile congressional hearing two days ago and in public statements, Republicans have renewed months-old charges the email traffic shows the administration tried to play down the Benghazi assault because it came at the height of the U.S. presidential campaign and might have made President Barack Obama look weak on national security.
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