White House releases Benghazi emails

The emails reportedly show discussions between the State Department, CIA, FBI and the White House.

WASHINGTON — The White House on Wednesday released 99 pages of emails on last year's deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, in hopes of putting an end to an issue that opposition Republicans in Congress have used for months to attack the Obama administration.

The Sept. 11, 2012, attack killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Since then, critics have seized on the administration's initial public response to the terror attack, which at first was blamed on a protest over an anti-Islam video produced in the U.S.

View the documents here (PDF)

One of the newly released, partially blacked-out emails shows that then CIA-Director David Petraeus objected to the final talking points that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice used five days after the deadly assault because he wanted to see more detail publicly released, including a warning the CIA issued about plans for a break-in at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

 

The White House also released a single page of handwritten notes made by Petraeus' deputy, Mike Morell, after a meeting at the White House the day before Rice's appearance on television news shows to discuss the attack. On that page, Morell scratched out from the CIA's early drafts of talking points mentions of al-Qaida, the experience of fighters in Libya, Islamic extremists and a warning to the Cairo embassy on the eve of the attacks of calls for a demonstration and break-in by jihadists.

"No mention of the cable to Cairo, either?" Petraeus wrote after receiving Morell's edited version, developed after an intense back-and-forth among Obama administration officials. "Frankly, I'd just as soon not use this, then."

Benghazi emails not enough for Obama critics

Benghazi emails not enough for Obama critics
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A senior U.S. intelligence official told reporters Wednesday that Morell made the changes to the talking points because of his concerns that they could prejudge an FBI investigation into who was responsible for the Benghazi attack.

The official said Morell also didn't think it was fair to disclose the CIA's advance warning without giving the State Department a chance to explain how it responded. The official spoke on a condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the emails on the record. Petraeus declined to be interviewed.

Critics have highlighted an email by then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland that expressed concern that any mention of prior warnings or the involvement of al-Qaida would give congressional Republicans ammunition to attack the administration in the weeks before the presidential election in November. Fighting terror was one of President Barack Obama's re-election strong points.

That email was among those released by the White House, sent by Nuland on Sept. 14 at 7:39 p.m. to officials in the White House, State Department and CIA. "I have serious concerns about all the parts highlighted below, and arming members of Congress to start making assertions to the media that we ourselves are not making because we don't want to prejudice the investigation," she wrote.

The emails were shared with Congress earlier this year as a condition for allowing the nomination of John Brennan for CIA director to move forward.

An interim report last month from the Republicans on five House committees criticized the Obama administration and mentioned the emails, but the issue exploded last week when new details emerged.

Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee read some of the emails aloud last Wednesday at a hearing with State Department officials. The next day, House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, called on the White House to release the emails.

A Boehner spokesman said Wednesday the emails released by the White House only confirm the interim report.

"They contradict statements made by the White House that it and the State Department only changed one word in the talking points," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said in a statement. "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."

New revelations emerged Friday that showed State Department and other administration officials pressing for references to terror groups and prior warnings be deleted, expressing concerns about the political implications.

The White House says congressional Republicans have misrepresented some of the emails.

The emails released by the White House were partially blacked out, including to remove names of senders and recipients who are career employees at the CIA and elsewhere. The names were replaced with references to the office where they worked.

The talking points were used by Rice in her appearance on five news shows on Sunday, Sept. 16, and sent to Congress. An official with the CIA's office of congressional affairs whose name was blacked out sent the final version to Petraeus on Saturday, Sept. 15, at 12:51 p.m.

"As mentioned last night, State had voiced strong concerns with the original text due to the criminal investigation," the official wrote.

Petraeus responded at 2:27 saying he'd prefer not to even use them in that form. But he said the decision was up to the White House's national security staff.

At a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said there has been "very, very substantial progress" in the investigation into who was responsible for the attacks in Benghazi. Earlier this month, the FBI said it was seeking information on three people who were on the grounds of the diplomatic mission when it was attacked. The FBI posted photographs of the three people and said they may be able to provide information to help in the investigation.

Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday's release of the emails was a "wise choice."

MSN News contributed to this report.