WASHINGTON – Then-CIA Director David Petraeus objected to the final talking points the Obama administration used after the deadly assault on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, because he wanted to see more details revealed, according to emails released Wednesday by the White House.
Under pressure in the investigation that continues eight months after the attacks, the White House released 99 pages of emails and a single page of hand-written notes made by Petraeus’ deputy, Mike Morell, after a meeting on Saturday, Sept. 15.
On that page, Morell scratched out 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.
Petraeus apparently was displeased by the removal of so much of the material his analysts proposed for release. The talking points were sent to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to prepare her for appearances on news shows Sunday, Sept. 16, and to members of the House Intelligence Committee.
No mention of the cable to Cairo, either? Petraeus wrote. Frankly, I’d just as soon not use this, then.
Petreaus’ email comes at the end of extensive back-and-forth among officials at the CIA, White House, State Department and other agencies weighing in on a public explanation for the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans
The emails were partly blacked out, including removal of names of senders and recipients who are career employees.
The emails show only minor edits were requested by the White House, and most of the objections came from the State Department.
Critics have highlighted an email by then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland that expressed concern that any mention of warnings or the involvement of al-Qaida would give congressional Republicans ammunition to attack the administration before the presidential election. Fighting terror was one of President Obama’s re-election strong points.
Nuland wrote she was concerned they could prejudice the investigation and be abused by members to beat the State Department for not paying attention to agency warnings so why do we want to feed that either?
After Nuland sent more emails throughout that Friday evening, Jake Sullivan, then-deputy chief of staff at the State Department, said the issues would be worked out Saturday morning.
A senior U.S. intelligence official told reporters Wednesday that Morell made the changes after that meeting because of his own concerns that they could prejudge an FBI investigation.
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 without authorization to speak about the emails on the record. Petraeus declined to be interviewed Wednesday.