James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, did not change the talking points on Benghazi that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice used on several talk shows days after the Sept. 11 attack.
"It was not Director Clapper who personally modified the talking points," ODNI Spokesman Shawn Turner told The Cable. "The reporter who originally wrote that does not cover the IC [intelligence community] so she thought that since Clapper heads the IC, it would be OK to say he modified the talking points."
Turner was referring to this Nov. 20 CBS report, which has since been revised to say that the changes, which included removing references to al Qaeda and terrorism, were made at the Office of the DNI but not necessarily by Clapper himself. The report now states that the talking points were passed from the CIA to ODNI, where some edits were made, and then on to the FBI, where further edits were made.
The original reporting saying that Clapper himself made the edits was "frustratingly wrong and several others have picked it up," Turner said. "The talking points were debated and edited by a collective of experts from around the IC."
The clarification helps explain why Clapper told Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in a classified hearing earlier this month that he didn't know who deleted the references to al Qaeda and terrorism from the talking points, according to McCain.
McCain, speaking on Fox News Sunday yesterday, again expressed frustration that Clapper claimed to have no idea where and when the talking points were edited. McCain also opened the door to the possibility he could be persuaded to going along with the possible nomination of Rice to be the next secretary of state.
"I think she deserves the ability and the opportunity to explain herself and her position, just as she said. But she's not the problem. The problem is the president of the United States, who, on -- in a debate with Mitt Romney, said that he had said it was a terrorist attack. He hadn't," McCain said.
McCain had previously said he would do everything in his power to prevent Rice from becoming secretary of state. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who also had pledged to oppose a Rice nomination, said Sunday on ABC's This Week that he is simply not convinced Rice had gotten all of her information from the intelligence community. But Graham also opened the door to Rice potentially getting confirmed.
"When she comes over [to the Senate], if she does, there will be a lot of questions asked of her about this event and others," he said. "But I do not believe the video is the cause -- when 14 September -- when Secretary Clinton told the families, ‘We're going to put in jail the man who made this video,' she should have said, ‘I'm sorry we left the consulate open and it became a death trap. I'm sorry we couldn't help your family for over seven hours.'"
"I don't believe the video is the reason for this. I don't believe it was ever the reason for this. That was a political story, not an intel story, and we're going to hold people accountable," Graham said.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) came to Rice's defense on ABC.
"Well, I can just tell you, if this were an NFL football game, the critics of Ambassador Rice would be penalized for piling on," he said. ‘For goodness's sake, she got the report from the intelligence community. She dutifully reported it to the public, just exactly what we expect her to do. They had decided not to include the al Qaeda reference so we wouldn't compromise our sources in Benghazi and in Libya."
"This has just been a dance-fest to go after Ambassador Rice. That should come to an end," Durbin said. "Let's get down to the basic issues, as the State Department is doing. Find out how to keep our people safe who are representing us around the world and stop making this a personal attack on Ambassador Rice."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.