Who Changed the Talking Points, and Does it Matter?

by Eliana Johnson

That’s one of the central questions of the Benghazi investigation right now, and CBS news reports that the substantive changes – the removal of “specific references to ‘al-Qaeda’ and ‘terrorism’” – were made in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. According to CBS, those references were excised from the unclassified version of the talking points because the links to al-Qaeda were, at that point, too “tenuous” to make public. 

The CBS report directly contradicts the statements of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, who said Sunday on Meet the Press that changes were made in a “deputies committee” meeting consisting of administration officials. 

At the heart of this debate is whether the Obama administration politicized Susan Rice’s talking points in order to promote the belief that, the president’s words, “al-Qaeda is on the path to defeat.” Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have both suggested this is the case. If the administration did in fact doctor the Benghazi intelligence, there’s one person who’s not concerned, and that’s Joe Scarborough. On this morning’s edition of Morning Joe, he told his fellow panelists that, in fact, politicizing intelligence is a standard procedure: 

Listen, first of all, let’s just say what happened, ok? You know, the President’s punch line was, al-Qaeda’s on the run, blah blah. They politicized intel, they did. Guess what? White Houses do that. You know what? I’m not shocked, I’m not stunned. I wish they hadn’t of done it, but I’m a lot more concerned, all of us, about how do you protect Americans in the future than about what happened after the ambassador was already killed.

In hindsight, then, I’m not sure why Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN back in 2003 was such a big deal. Hey, if, as many insist to this day, the Bush administration politicized the intelligence, you know, “White Houses do that.”

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