WASHINGTON — The White House is back to attacking Fox News from the briefing room. During his scheduled briefing with reporters Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney got into a back-and-forth with Fox’s Ed Henry in which Carney accused the network of “misrepresenting” the Benghazi story.
The back-and-forth came during a discussion of incoming National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who as U.N. Ambassador was the first Obama administration official to speak about Benghazi on the Sunday shows last year. The talking points she delivered led her to become enemy number one for Republicans and contributed to her withdrawing her name after President Obama considered nominating her for Secretary of State.
Here’s the exchange, pulled from a transcript:
Last thing, Susan Rice. You described her as one of the most qualified, experienced foreign policy experts in America. If that’s the case, how did she get the information on Benghazi so wrong five days after the attack.
CARNEY: And I welcome the opportunity to correct the record, especially for some news outlets who persist in misrepresenting the facts.
You have seen these so-called talking points. You have seen the testimony of the deputy director of the CIA. You have seen the documents themselves that demonstrate that the central contested point that Ambassador Rice made on those Sunday shows was drafted in the first instance and in every instance thereafter by the CIA.
QUESTION: (inaudible) being whether it was terror or not?
CARNEY: No, whether there was a protest — whether the — whether there was protests outside of the Benghazi facility that were inspired by — by the events in Cairo. The fact is, the talking points said that there were extremists involved, and — and that was the decision to characterize them as extremists again, I would point you to statements by intelligence community senior officials, who have made clear that that was their judgment.
And the idea that whether it was the president referring to it as an act of terror the next day after the events in Benghazi or Susan Rice herself on one of the Sunday shows, talking about that it could be al Qaida, it could be al Qaida-related groups, that this is a false distinction that has been propounded by Republicans for political reasons from the very first days after the events in Benghazi, and it has been an unfortunate focus when the real focus should have been and continues to be, as far as the president is concerned, on taking the necessary measures to ensure that our diplomatic security is as strong as it can be, so that this can’t happen again, and to ensuring that we are doing everything we can to bring to justice those who killed four Americans.
QUESTION: Then why did various intelligence officials say in various testimony elsewhere that they almost immediately knew that this was terror?
And if she’s so experienced in these matters, why wouldn’t she see that as they saw it, regardless of what the talking points say?
CARNEY: So — so — so you’re suggesting that a senior member of the national security team should — should actually disagree with the assessments of the intelligence community provided by the CIA…
QUESTION: At one point General Petraeus said…
QUESTION: … and he didn’t want to agree with it anymore because the talking points had been changed so much, the CIA director didn’t think they were worth anything.
CARNEY: Ed, I honestly think…
(CROSSTALK) CARNEY: One of the things that was written about was that the CIA director, General Petraeus, was — disagreed with the removal of a point about a warning to the — to the embassy in Cairo, which reinforced, had it been included, the central point that the protests outside of Benghazi or the demonstrations and attacks outside of Benghazi had been inspired by what was happening in Cairo.
So that, unfortunately, doesn’t fit the narrative you’re trying to propose here.
I — I think there has been ample demonstration by the facts of the evolution of the talking points, the role that Ambassador Rice played in conveying the information, that Director Clapper, that Mike Morel (ph), that the senior members of the intelligence community have made very clear were the assessments of the intelligence community.
And in every iteration of this, Ambassador Rice made clear, as I did, that these were early assessments that were certain to change as we obtained more facts.
And to suggest otherwise is just irresponsible.