Obama administration officials Friday insisted they did nothing to alter the narrative behind the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, even with emails made public showing White House and State Department leaders pushing to eliminate any allusion to terrorist groups responsible for the violence.
In one of the most defensive press conferences of his tenure, Obama spokesman Jay Carney fielded dozens of questions from reporters about internal White House discussions which showcase a concerted effort to modify CIA and FBI talking points and undercuts administration claims that their edits were merely “stylistic.”
“I think it’s important to examine the information, that again, that we provided to Congress months ago, which they have chosen for political reasons to leak today, which is their prerogative, I suppose,” Carney said. “But the fact is, the White House’s involvement to the talking points generated by the CIA that Saturday was to make a single change, suggest a single change.”
While Carney conceded that White House officials were involved in “interagency” discussions about the talking points, he framed such input as suggestions that did not influence how the government characterized the attacks.
Carney said the lone change made by the White House was altering the word “consulate” to “diplomatic facility.”
Emails obtained by The Weekly Standard and ABC News showed White House and State Department officials extensively editing 12 different versions of talking points about the Benghazi terrorist strike. State Department officials asked that references to the al Qaeda-connected group Ansar al-Sharia be removed, as well as CIA warnings about terrorist threats in the area.
In response, Carney said the references to terror groups were deleted because the administration didn’t want to make statements "beyond what we knew" for certain.
However, then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland voiced concerns over the CIA's version of events, saying they would open up her department to undeserving scrutiny, the emails show.
In the aftermath of the attacks, the White House attributed the violence to an anti-Islam YouTube video — a false story line the administration promoted on the Sunday talk shows. Republicans have long accused the White House of downplaying terrorist elements ahead of November’s presidential election.
"This is an effort to accuse the administration of hiding something we did not hide," Carney insisted.
Republicans are calling for the White House to make all the emails public, saying that if administration officials did nothing wrong, they should have nothing to hide. The White House would not agree to release those documents Friday.
“Absolutely no candor from the White House today. After everything, still no candor, none,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner. “Who invented the White House rule that you can never admit a mistake?”