Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on the Benghazi attack before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies on the Benghazi attack before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

Additional facts about the Benghazi debacle have surfaced in the last few days, suggesting that the White House is worse than previously documented.

The Benghazi whistleblowers about whom the president claimed to know nothing have been identified and will testify. They are Mark Thompson, deputy assistant secretary of state for counter-terrorism; Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission/charge d’affairs in Libya; and Eric Nordstrom, who acted as a regional security officer in Libya for the State Department. The men will tell their stories to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Nordstrom has testified before, and if he was pressured to withhold or alter testimony, we’ll be into a whole different level of scandal.

We know that the State Department inspector general is investigating the Accountability Review Board. It is unclear whether there is overlap between the whistleblowers and the IG’s investigation. Again, if we learn witnesses were suppressed or accounts changed for political reasons, even the mainstream media might have to change its story.

And we know that three al-Qaeda operatives took part in the attack in Benghazi. CNN reports, “Several Yemeni men belonging to al-Qaeda took part in the terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi last September, according to several sources who have spoken with CNN. One senior U.S. law enforcement official told CNN that ‘three or four members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,’ or AQAP, took part in the attack.”

If this was known to our intelligence community shortly after the attack, there is further reason to question why administration officials were perpetuating the notion that this was a spontaneous attack prompted by an anti-Muslim video.

As this unfolds we should be attuned to the blame-shifting game. CIA likes to blame State. State political players may want to fob off responsibility on permanent civil service personnel. And the entire executive branch has wanted to blame Congress (by falsely suggesting lack of funding was responsible for the security failure).

In my own reporting, I’ve pointed to instances in which the State Department refused to repeat the false narrative coming from the White House, especially in the days after the attack. On Oct. 9 in a background briefing coming from State, the national media first got an accurate inkling of the chain of events. Others have reported that the role of Islamic terrorists was known by the intelligence community almost immediately.

So who does that leave as the instigator of a false narrative and effort to downplay the entire incident in the weeks before the 2012 election? Arrows point to the inter-agency group of political appointees who convened to put together and alter the administration’s talking points in advance of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice’s infamous Sunday talk show appearances in which she pushed the video narrative.

It’s helpful and necessary to get those State Department whistleblowers to testify. But what is really needed is to put under oath those political appointees in the inter-agency briefing who sanitized the talking points. They are the best percipient witnesses (and perhaps the culprits) and the only ones who can tell us from whom the direction to edit the talking points came.

And with that knowledge we will learn why the talking points were changed. Was the White House caught by surprise? Did the president not want an al-Qaeda incident before the election?

It always matters when an administration tries to conceal the truth from the American people. And it matters if those responsible are still in positions of authority.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.