(TheBlaze/AP) -- Lawmakers said Sunday they want to know who had a hand in creating the Obama administration's now-discredited "talking points" about the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, and why a final draft omitted the CIA's early conclusion that terrorists were involved.
The answers could explain why President Barack Obama and his top aides, including U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, described the attack for roughly two weeks afterward as a protest against an anti-Islam video that spontaneously turned violent, and why they played down any potential link to al-Qaeda despite ample evidence to the contrary.
An armed man waves his rifle after buildings and cars were set on fire inside the US Consulate compound in Benghazi late on Sept. 11. (AFP/Getty Images)
Administration officials have either defended their portrayal as relying on the best information available at the time, or claimed that they said it was a terrorist attack all along.
Democrats say CIA and other intelligence officials signed off on the final talking points, but Republicans have alleged a Watergate-like cover up, accusing White House aides of hiding the terrorism link in the run-up to the Nov. 6 presidential election. President Obama made foreign policy a cornerstone of his campaign, they note, and repeatedly claimed to have dealt a crippling blow al-Qaeda.
"I know the narrative was wrong and the intelligence was right. ... We're going to get to the bottom of how that happened," said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Ambassador Christopher Stevens, U.S. Ambassador to Libya, was one of the four Americans killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, eastern Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012. (Photo: State Department)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, firmly said that she doesn't believe the White House altered the talking points for political reasons. But, she added, she has lingering concerns about how they were created when it was so clear that the military-style assault wasn't a simple protest gone awry.
She said Congress has asked the administration to provide a detailed explanation.
"We gave the direction yesterday that this whole process is going to be checked out," said Feinstein, D-Calif. "We're going to find out who made changes in the original statement. Until, we do I really think it's unwarranted to make accusations."
Here is full video of Feinstein's comments on NBC's "Meet the Press":
The inquiry comes on the heels of closed testimony to the committees last week by former CIA Director David Petraeus. According to lawmakers who attended the meetings, Petraeus said the reference to al-Qaeda was removed from the final version of talking points, although he wasn't sure who or which federal agency deleted it.
A senior U.S. official familiar with the document, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the process publicly, said the al-Qaeda reference was deleted because the information came from classified sources and the links were tenuous. The administration also did not want to prejudice a criminal investigation in its early stages, that official said.
Feinstein confirmed that intelligence officials told her in closed briefings that they were reluctant to name any particular terrorist group without being certain. But, she added, it was clear almost immediately after the attack that the violence didn't stem from a political demonstration based on a YouTube video.
US President Barack Obama pauses while speaking during a press conference November 14, 2012 in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. Obama gave his first public reaction Wednesday to the the fall of CIA chief David Petraeus, saying he was aware of no breach of national security during the affair. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, told reporters traveling with the president to Asia that any substantive edits to the talking points would have come from intelligence agencies themselves. The only change the White House made, he claimed, was to correct a reference to the facility in Benghazi as a "diplomatic facility," instead of a "consulate."
"Other than that we were guided by the points that were provided by the intelligence community. So I can't speak to any other edits that may have been made," he said.
But lawmakers said that Capitol Hill briefings last week represented the FBI, State Department and CIA, and that officials did not address what role political appointees like as Rice might have played in the creation of the talking points. Republicans said they want Rice to testify about what she knew and when she knew it.
"What I do know is that every member in the intelligence community says that references to al-Qaida were removed by somebody, [but] they don't know who," Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. summarized.
Here is video of his Fox News interview (skip to around 2:30):But Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Petraeus had signed off on the final talking points and that going after Rice is a pointless witch hunt.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that she expects the committee will hold at least three more hearings on the matter and publish a report on its findings.
"It took 17 days for the director of national intelligence even to issue a statement to say that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack," Snowe, R-Maine, said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"That's unacceptable in today's environment."
Here is video from the ABC segment with Sen. Levin and Rep. King (skip to around 4:00):
AP Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier contributed to this report.