A look at why the Benghazi issue keeps coming back

By Connie Cass

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, May 18 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

A team of six security officials summoned from Tripoli arrives around 5 a.m. Soon after, another assault on the annex begins. A mortar blast kills CIA security contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. About an hour later, a Libyan military unit arrives to help evacuate the U.S. personnel.

After the Americans fled the diplomatic compound, Benghazi civilians found Ambassador Stevens in the wreckage and drove him to a hospital, but he couldn't be saved. Like Smith, he died of smoke inhalation.


The calamity in Benghazi was the kind of autumn surprise that can rock a presidential race.

The night of Sept. 11, before word of Stevens' death was out, Republican nominee Mitt Romney issued a hurried statement about violence in Egypt and Libya, criticizing the State Department as too sympathetic to Muslim protesters. Critics, even some in his own party, faulted Romney for politicizing a crisis before the facts were in.

A month later in a combative presidential debate, Romney took another tack. He jumped on Obama for being too slow to acknowledge that terrorism was committed on his watch.

"It took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror," Romney insisted.

"Get the transcript," Obama snapped back, referring to his remarks the day after the assault.

In that Rose Garden appearance and similar words the next day, Obama had said that "acts of terror" would not shake U.S. resolve. He also condemned the violent protests that were sweeping through Muslim nations, sparked by anger over the Muhammad video.

In interviews over the next two weeks, Obama blamed the attack on extremists but steered clear of using any form of the word "terror." Other administration officials did the same and continued to conflate the Benghazi attack with the protests elsewhere.

Finally, at a Sept. 20 news briefing, White House spokesman Jay Carney said it was "self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack."


The question of the moment: Were the "talking points" drawn up within days of the attack deliberately misleading?

The document, outlining the government's public message, was sent to members of Congress and to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who made the round of Sunday morning talk shows five days after the attack.

Republicans accuse Rice of deceiving the American people. They say that, working from the talking points, she passed off an attack by heavily armed terrorists possibly linked to al-Qaida as something less damaging to Obama's terror-fighting credentials.

Rice described the attack as a "horrific incident where some mob was hijacked, ultimately, by a handful of extremists."

The White House says Rice reflected the best information available while facts were still being gathered. Republican critics say the administration should have known by then that there was no mob of protesters and the attack was a premeditated act of terrorism.

Two months after her TV interviews, the controversy ended Rice's chance of following Clinton as secretary of state.


Those talking points from September are in the news now because of new revelations about how they were crafted.

Republicans demanded to see emails exchanged by administration officials who revised and edited the talking points. On Wednesday, the White House publicly released 100 pages of emails and notes, saying congressional Republicans had misrepresented what they say.

Most of the email back-and-forth is between the State Department and the CIA, the entities whose facilities were attacked in Benghazi. White House and FBI officials were also in the discussions.

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