The Cable

Clapper did not change the Benghazi talking points

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."

The Cable

Clapper changed the talking points, but Rice still on the hot seat

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice is seemingly off the hook for her controversial Sept. 16 comments on Benghazi, but the opposition to her confirmation remains as her critics broaden their objections to her possible candidacy along with the administration's handling of the Benghazi issue.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper made the decision to remove the words "terrorism" and "al Qaeda" from the unclassified talking points that Rice based her comments on in the days following the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, it was revealed this week. But senators who have promised to try to block Rice's potential nomination to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are altering their message while continuing to oppose Rice's ascension.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has already started campaigning for his 2014 reelection campaign by focusing on the Benghazi attack, released a letter to President Barack Obama Wednesday demanding to know when he personally was aware of the intelligence on the attack and why he chose Rice to speak for the administration.

"We have now learned that the talking points provided to Ambassador Susan Rice on or around September 15 describing the assault on our consulate in Benghazi were disconnected from the actual intelligence. According to numerous sources, including CIA Director David Petraeus and the CIA station chief on the ground in Libya, the perpetrators of the attack were identified to be al Qaeda linked militia almost immediately," Graham wrote. "In spite of the FBI report and all other available intelligence, the talking points given to Ambassador Rice suggesting the attack was spontaneous, based on a hateful video, and similar to the attacks in Cairo, was completely disconnected from the intelligence."

Last week, President Obama challenged critics of Rice's Benghazi statements, including his 2008 opponent John McCain (R-AZ), to take him on directly, saying, "If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me."

With this letter, Graham has obliged, shifting the accusation of misleading the American public on Benghazi from Rice to the president by questioning whehter Obama knew about the details of the intelligence reports and, if so, why he emphasized the anti-Islam video in several television appearances in the days after the attack. Graham also implies that Obama chose poorly by asking Rice to represent the administration on the issue.

"As for Ambassador Susan Rice, by the time she addressed the nation on five Sunday shows on September 16, the classified intelligence clearly refuted the scenario she described," Graham wrote. "So why was Ambassador Rice, who in your words ‘had nothing to do with Benghazi,' chosen to explain the attack to the American people?  Why wasn't someone with first-hand knowledge of the attack on our Consulate, or first-hand knowledge of the Administration's response during the critical hours our consulate was under attack, selected for this opportunity?"

McCain has also shifted his emphasis from Rice's comments to the White House's handling of the Benghazi issue overall. On Nov. 19, he said he would oppose any nomination for secretary of state, not just Rice, until his questions on Benghazi were answered.

In a Nov. 20 statement, McCain said that Clapper professed not to know who altered the CIA-drafted Benghazi talking points during a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week, which the Arizona senator attended.

"I participated in hours of hearings in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last week regarding the events in Benghazi, where senior intelligence officials were asked this very question, and all of them -- including the Director of National Intelligence himself -- told us that they did not know who made the changes. Now we have to read the answers to our questions in the media," McCain said. "There are many other questions that remain unanswered. But this latest episode is another reason why many of us are so frustrated with, and suspicious of, the actions of this administration when it comes to the Benghazi attack."

Meanwhile, commentators have expanded their criticism of Rice's potential nomination to include several issues not related to Benghazi. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank this week highlighted longstanding concerns by some Rice critics that her style is too confrontational.

The New York Times noted this week Rice's comment during her time in the Clinton administration when she asked aloud whether using the term "genocide" in reference to mass killings in Rwanda would hurt the president politically before the midterm elections.

Rice might also be pressed during a potential confirmation hearing to defend the Obama administration's reluctance to further intervene in Syria. She told then journalist, now White House official Samantha Power after Rwanda that she would never again let such a humanitarian tragedy unfold on her watch.

"I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required," Rice said.