Did the former spokesman for President Obama’s National Security Staff (NSS) contradict accounts of other Obama officials, including sworn testimony before Congress, regarding the administration’s talking points on the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi terrorist attacks?
The question arose Thursday when Fox News anchor Brett Baier questioned former NSS spokesman Tommy Vietor. During the interview, Vietor acknowledged making at least one substantive change to the talking points.
Baier asked Vietor, “According to the e-mails and the time line the C.I.A. circulates new talking points after they’ve removed the mention of al-Qaeda, and then at 6:21 the White House, you, add a line about the administration warning of September 10th of social media reports calling for demonstrations. True?”
[quote]Uh, I believe so,” answered Vietor.[/quote]
The documentation and Vietor’s admission that he helped steer the talking points toward the incorrect demonstration narrative are at odds with other Obama officials, including White House spokesman Jay Carney who insisted that White House officials only made a single edit, changing the word “consulate” to “diplomatic post.”
"[T]he only edit made by the White House or the State Department to those talking points generated by the C.I.A. was a change from -- referring to the facility that was attacked in Benghazi, from 'consulate,' because it was not a consulate, to 'diplomatic post'…But the point being, it was a matter of non-substantive/factual correction,” said Carney at a White House press briefing on May 10, 2013. Later, Carney reiterated, “The White House made one minor change to the talking points drafted by the C.I.A.”
Last month, former C.I.A. Deputy Director Mike Morell repeated the claim that the White House had no involvement in any substantive changes.
[quote]“To be very clear,” Morell told members of the House Intelligence Committee on April 2, 2014, “the White House did not make any substantive changes to the talking points.”[/quote]
Morell’s written testimony submitted to the committee also specifically denied that Vietor’s agency, the NSS, which is chaired by the President, made the change that Vietor suggests he made.
Morell’s written testimony reads, “No one at the NSS suggested or requested a single substantive change. That is a simple fact, and calling it a myth doesn’t change the reality. For example, one change suggested by the NSS was to change the reference in the talking points to the U.S. Consulate to a more precise term for the facility because it was not technically a consulate. Another requested change was a simple reordering of a couple of sentences for the sake of clarity. Editorial? Yes. Substantive? No.”
In Thursday's interview with Baier, Vietor left open the possibility that he made other changes to the talking points. But, when pressed, he seemed to revise his answer and point back to C.I.A. Deputy Director Morell’s testimony.
“Did you also change 'attacks' to 'demonstrations' in the talking points?” asked Baier in Thursday’s interview.
“Uh Maybe. I don’t really remember,” answered Vietor. “You don’t remember?” “Dude, this was like two years ago.” Baier continued, “The key part is ‘attacks’ to ‘demonstrations…’ “Yeah,” said Vietor.
“Did you do that?”
“No…what did we—what was the question?” said Vietor.
“The C.I.A. talking points,” Baier repeated. “It was edited from ‘attacks’ to ‘demonstrations.’”
“No, Michael Morell testified to what he changed and what was changed in those, in those emails, the whole process of that, Michael Morell testified that he took them back, didn’t like them and changed them,” Vietor said.
A spokesman for Morell provided no immediate comment for this report. An email to Vietor went unanswered.
The Obama administration has firmly denied there was a political attempt to hide the fact that Benghazi was a terrorist attack eight weeks before the Presidential election. Obama officials say that when they blamed a spontaneously-inspired demonstration, they were relying on the best intelligence at the time and updated their account as more information became available.
"This is an effort to accuse the administration of hiding something that we did not hide," Carney told reporters on May 10, 2013.