Washington: Senior US State Department officials pressed for changes in the talking points that UN Ambassador Susan Rice used after the deadly attack on the US diplomatic mission in Libya last September, with senior officials asking that references to terror groups and prior warnings be deleted, according to department emails.
The latest developments are certain to add fuel to the politically charged debate over the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans when insurgents struck the US mission in two night-time attacks.
Republicans have complained that in the heat of the 2012 presidential campaign, the Obama administration was trying to conceal that the attack was the work of terrorists and not a protest over an anti-Islamic film that got out of hand.
Such revelations just before the election perhaps could have undercut President Barack Obama`s record on fighting terrorism, including the killing of Osama bin Laden, one of his re-election strengths.
Democrats have in turn accused Republicans of trying to capitalise on the attack to score political points. The White House has insisted that it made only a "stylistic" change to the intelligence agency talking points from which Rice suggested on five television talk shows that demonstrations over an anti-Islamic video devolved into the Benghazi attack.
"There`s an ongoing effort to make something political out of this," White House spokesman Jay Carney said yesterday of the disclosure of the emails, which the administration had provided to lawmakers. "The problem with that effort is that it`s never been clear what it is they think they`re accusing the administration of doing."
A scathing independent report in December found that "systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels" of the State Department meant that security was "inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place."
The report largely absolved then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, seen by many as the early Democratic favorite for president in 2016.
The State Department emails and other internal administration deliberations were summarised last month in an interim investigative report by Republicans on five House committees. New details about political concerns and the names of the administration officials who wrote the emails concerning the talking points emerged yesterday.
Before the presidential election, the administration said Rice`s talking points were based on the best intelligence assessments available in the immediate aftermath of the attack.