WASHINGTON — The White House on Wednesday sought to defuse controversy over its handling of last year’s killing of Americans in Benghazi, Libya, by releasing emails detailing a back-and-forth discussion inside the administration about how to describe the incident to the public.
President Barack Obama has faced Republican criticism that his administration covered up details of the assault, especially after a news report last week said the emails were edited to omit a CIA warning of an al-Qaida threat.
There appeared to be little in the roughly 100 pages of emails that has not been leaked previously. Senior administration officials told reporters at the White House the emails were released to clear up misinformation about the process.
The emails were the basis for the controversial “talking points” memos that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice used when discussing the attacks, which killed four Americans in Benghazi.
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, applauded the decision.
“On Monday I suggested that the White House release the chain of emails that finalized the Benghzi talking points. Today I’m pleased to learn they have done so. I look forward to putting this information before the entire Congress and the American people so that we can move forward with what’s important: a substantive discussion on how to improve the security of our diplomatic facilities around the world so that this never happens again,” King said.
Republicans say the talking points were an attempt to portray the attacks as arising from a spontaneous protest, and not an organized terrorist assault, so as to protect Obama in last year’s presidential campaign from any charges that he was weak on fighting terrorism.
They believe the emails show the talking points were changed because of intervention by a State Department that felt vulnerable for not doing more to prevent the attacks.
“The seemingly political nature of the State Department’s concerns raises questions about the motivations behind these changes and who at the State Department was seeking them,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner.
The State Department raised concerns about references in the talking points that could be used by members of Congress to criticize State officials for not heeding warnings by the CIA about the threat from militants in eastern Libya, the emails show.
The officials said the emails showed the talking points were based on intelligence information approved by the CIA and meant to avoid pre-judging the outcome of an FBI investigation into the Sept. 12, 2012, attacks.