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Right Turn
Posted at 08:45 AM ET, 11/19/2012

Talking points and omitted facts

Was U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice part of an Obama administration cabal to shade the truth with the American people after the 9-11-2012 attack and murder of our ambassador to Libya, or was she a pawn, duped into mouthing dishonest talking points? That is one issue, but hardly the only one, that has emerged after former CIA director David Petraeus’s testimony last week.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R- Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, helped flesh out some more detail on what happened before Rice went on five Sunday shows to tell Americans a story that was at odds with what the CIA knew and what the CIA chief believed at the time. He said, “I am with a high degree of confidence today will tell you that there was not an intelligence failure. The intelligence community had it right, and they had it right early. What happened was it worked its way up through the system of the so-called talking points, which everyone refers to, and then it went up to what’s called a deputy’s committee. And what I found fascinating about this investigation, and, again, my role here in my mind is to say, was there an intelligence failure? If so, how do we prevent it from happening again? It went to the so-called deputy’s committee that’s populated by appointees from the administration. That’s where the narrative changed.”

Well, now the plot, as they say, thickens.

There are obviously a number of questions about all the parties involved, including Rice, but by no means limited to her.

Now even in Rogers’s telling Rice is a passive consumer of the revised talking points. But it is worth asking how that comports with her own access to intelligence and her own CIA briefing, if any? House Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) put it this way: “She certainly could have gotten a classified briefing. She would have sat down with the National Security Council, and she would have known that those talking points had been watered down, and she could have caveated that — her statement, which she didn’t.”

Among the critical questions with respect to her role is whether she had the original talking points or access to CIA officials who transmitted the substance of those. If so, then she’s not a bit player but part of the ensemble that tried to downplay the terrorist aspects of this and play up “the anti-Muslim movie made them do it” cover story.

Frankly on an event this big and this controversial, it is hard to believe that people such as national security adviser Tom Donilon, national intelligence director James Clapper, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, White House terrorism advisor John Brennan or Petraeus would have been hands off in the coordination of information and the preparation of the sole representative of the administration on five talk shows that Sunday. Really, if you were someone important in the administration on national security, wouldn’t you have been in the huddle to help formulate the administration’s response?

And if the deputies meeting (convened when the bosses aren’t present or the matter can be delegated downward) did play a role, it is hard to imagine that their bosses didn’t check up to see what had become of those talking points. Would deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes not have told his boss Donilon what happened? Are we to believe someone like deputy secretary of State William J. Burns would have kept Hillary Clinton in the dark? In any event, there must be, as former officials of other administrations have told me, gobs of conversations by phone and e-mail and possibly in person ( any note takers present?) in which the talking points were edited, reedited, massaged some more and finally handed off to Rice. Certainly all of that should be able to clear this up rather swiftly, no?

If some or all of these top national security figures and/or their deputies were involved in the dulling down of the talking points, then it is not accurate to say the White House acted alone in spiking the talking points. But neither is it believable that on something this significant the White House would not have been in the center of the action. And if the excuse is that the information pointing to the involvement of entities linked to al-Qaeda was too secret to disclose, then the only appropriate move would have been to keep Rice at home that Sunday. (Wouldn’t she in retrospect have been much better off had that been the conclusion?)

There was this exchange on Sunday between host David Gregory and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.):

GREGORY: Why not just call it what it was? Who — why are we protecting?
FEINSTEIN: I happen to think that’s absolutely correct. I don’t know . . . who we were protecting. I do know that the answer given to us is we didn’t want to name a group until we had some certainty. Well, . . . where this went awry is anybody that brings weapons and mortars and RPGs and breaks into an asset of the United States is a terrorist in my view. I mean, that’s . . . pretty clear. Also the other point was, once the video was put together, it was clear there was no demonstration. This should have been known much earlier. It also raises the concern of talking points by committee. And I have some concern about that.

It is getting harder to escape the conclusion that the people “who we were protecting” were the ones working in the White House.

By  |  08:45 AM ET, 11/19/2012

 
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