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Administration Officials Downplay CIA-State Department Squabbling In Benghazi Emails

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The emails vindicate the administration's claim that White House officials did not partake in defensive wrangling over the framing or content of the talking points. But they do confirm that the State Department and CIA were at odds, at least for a time, over how comprehensive the talking points should be.

That squabbling -- which appear to reflect at least in part the two agencies' desires to insulate themselves from blame for the attacks -- is the only remaining aspect of the controversy, perpetuated by Republicans and conservatives, over the administration's private deliberations and public communications in the days after the attack.

Notably, the officials at the briefing sought to downplay that tension as well. The final talking points, they noted, were edited most thoroughly by CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell, and reflect the modifications the State Department was seeking.

But Morrell's modifications reflected his own disagreements with early drafts, independent of State Department's similar objections, the officials stressed in the briefing, suggesting the rift between State and CIA was less severe than first believed.

That view is backed, in part, by sign-off from Morrell's top terror analyst, who in one email responded to Morrell's edits, "They are fine with me. But, pretty sure HPSCI [the House Permanent Select Committee On Intelligence] won't like them. :-)"

Then-CIA Director David Petraeus did raise objections to the final drafts, reflecting both his desire that the talking points contain information about CIA warnings regarding the security situation in the region, and his belief that HSPCI members would not be satisfied with them.

"No mention of the cable to Cairo, either? Frankly, I'd just as soon not use this, then... NSS's call, to be sure; however, this is certainly not what Vice Chairman Ruppersberger was hoping to get for unclas[sified] use. Regardless, thx for the great work."

NSS refers to the White House National Security Staff. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD) is the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee On Intelligence.

The emails do not make clear why HSPCI members, including Ruppersberger, would be unhappy with the talking points, but they suggest that it was because the final version of the talking points lacked sufficient detail about the incident.

About The Author

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Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com

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