Fox News reports that intelligence officials told members of Congress they do not know who changed Ambassador Susan Rice’s talking points on Benghazi to remove references to al Qaeda for her five Sunday show appearances:
Former CIA Director David Petraeus stoked the controversy over the Obama administration’s handling of the Libya terror attack, testifying Friday that references to “Al Qaeda involvement” were stripped from his agency’s original talking points — while other intelligence officials were unable to say who changed the memo, according to a top lawmaker who was briefed.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told Fox News that intelligence officials who testified in a closed-door hearing a day earlier, including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Acting CIA Director Mike Morell, said they did not know who changed the talking points. He said they went out to multiple departments, including the State Department, National Security Council, Justice Department and White House.
“To me the question right now is who changed those talking points and why. … I’d say it was somebody in the administration had to have taken it out,” King told Fox News. “That, to me, has to be pursued.”
Indeed it does, and the identity of the individual (or individuals) who changed Rice’s talking points is entirely knowable. After spending five years in the White House, I can say with certainty that it is virtually impossible to anonymously edit official talking points.
When a document makes its way through the White House, there is a process for collecting and making suggested edits. When it is a White House generated document, it goes through a rigorous staffing process. The White House Staff Secretary sends the document out for comments, collects all the edits, and shares them with the speechwriters, who either make or do not make the changes. Every comment and edit to every draft is saved. When talking points or statements related to national security are generated outside the White House — especially when they are for a coordinated series of Sunday show appearances made at the request of the White House — the National Security Council runs a similar process, circulating the draft for comments and collecting all the edits and changes.
In other words, there is a trail of bread crumbs somewhere in the bowels of the Obama White House — a series of drafts with “tracked changes” and the names of those who made them. The Obama administration may choose not to share those drafts with Congress or the American people, but they exist. It is simply implausible that Rice’s talking points were mysteriously and anonymously changed.
Senator Saxby Chambliss, Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, thinks he knows where the changes were generated: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. As he explained on Fox News Sunday, at last week’s hearings “Everybody there was asked do you know who made these changes; and nobody knew. The only entity that reviewed the talking points that was not there was the White House.”
Chambliss may be right. It’s easy to find out. The edits exist, and they are at the White House.