White House Press Secretary Jay Carney during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Friday, May, 10, 2013. Carney responded on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, calling on top-to-bottom review of the Obama administration after the IRS admitted that it had targeted conservative groups during the 2012 election. Credit: AP
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Friday fielded tough questions from reporters relating to new controversial reports on the Benghazi terrorist attack.
When asked about reports that indicate the Benghazi talking points used by the administration were altered 12 times and "dramatically edited" to scrub terror references, Carney deflected any blame from the White House. He said the editing process was led by the CIA but involved other agencies. The White House did ask that the U.S. compound be referred to as a "diplomatic post" instead of a consulate in the second set of talking points, he noted.
Several reporters from various agencies relentlessly pressed Carney and reminded him that the edits made to the talking points were not at all "stylistic" as the White House previously suggested, but rather significant changes. One reporter noted that references to terrorism and threats of terrorist attacks in Benghazi were included in the CIA's original draft of the talking points only to be taken out later.
"Then the CIA wrote another draft," Carney replied, adding that there was an interagency process that led to the final version of the points.
There is always a "process" that occurs after an attack like the one that occurred in Benghazi last year, Carney explained. He said the talking points were crafted to provide information to members of Congress and others who might speak publicly about Benghazi. Officials didn't want to provide any information they couldn't prove with 100 percent certainty, he added.
Carney said there were no efforts made to downplay the role of terror groups. He went on to accuse Republicans of politicizing the Benghazi attacks and reiterated that the intelligence relating to the attack was fluid and constantly changing.
"The president himself in the Rose Garden said, 'this is an act of terror,'" Carney said, later adding the administration didn't want to "jump to conclusions."
During a hearing before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday, Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission for the U.S. in Libya during the attack, testified that he was "stunned" and "embarrassed" that the talking points blamed the act of terror on a YouTube video. He suggested that officials knew almost immediately that a terror group was behind the attack.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) also read an email from a top State Department official in which the official fingered the radical terror group Ansar al-Sharia as the perpetrator behind the assault. The email was sent on Sept. 12, 2012.
Carney later accused Republicans of searching for some "hidden mystery" when there isn't one. "All of this is a distraction from the issues," he said.
"This is an effort to accuse the administration of hiding something that we did not hide, in fact, we spoke publicly about it," Carney added. The White House official also said the Republican effort to politicize Benghazi began when former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney issued a press release slamming the U.S. Embassy's response to the attack.
Watch Carney battle reporters over the talking points controversy below:
One reporter called Carney out for saying the administration didn't want to speculate on motive, when it did, in fact, speculate that the deadly Benghazi attack was caused by a YouTube video. Carney further defended the talking points, saying the only thing that turned out to be inaccurate is the fact that there were no demonstrations outside the U.S. compound on Sept. 11, 2012.
Reporters did not question Carney on a report that Benghazi involved running missiles to Syrian rebels.
Earlier on Friday, the White House reportedly held an off-the-record meeting with certain reporters on Friday to discuss the recent developments about Benghazi.
"According to Politico, the off-the-record meeting was announced after ABC News reported that the Obama administration’s State Department gave 'extensive input' in editing the CIA’s now-discredited talking points about the attack," TheBlaze reports.
An Associated Press reporter also asked about the IRS reportedly targeting Tea Party and patriot groups unfairly during the 2012 election.
Carney said the matter is under investigation. He also stressed the fact that the IRS is an "independent enforcement agency" with only two political appointees, attempting to discredit claims that there was a political motivation behind the "inappropriate" action.
"If this activity took place, it is inappropriate and action needs to be taken," he added.