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Emails show jostling over talking points on Libya attack

By MICHAEL D. SHEAR and MARK LANDLER
New York Times

WASHINGTON - The documents suggest that the top two officials at the C.I.A. disagreed about how many details the administration should disclose about the agency’s view of who carried out the attacks and its earlier warnings about terrorist threats in the region.

In a copy of a draft memo released by the White House, Michael J. Morrell, the agency’s deputy director, crossed out five sentences from the talking points that described the agency’s warnings about threats from Islamic extremists. State Department officials also strongly urged that the warnings be left out, according to the e-mails.

The C.I.A. director at the time, David H. Petraeus, evidently disagreed with his deputy and believed that the warnings should be made public. “Frankly, I’d just as soon not use this, then …” Mr. Petraeus wrote in an e-mail to colleagues, referring to a version of the talking points that excluded the warnings.

The version the administration used in the days after the attacks, primarily by Susan E. Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, did not include suspicions about the involvement of a Libyan militant group with ties to Al Qaeda. State Department officials objected to the inclusion of that information.

The administration has since acknowledged the involvement of Ansar al-Shariah, an extremist group with Qaeda ties. The White House released the e-mails to reporters after Republicans seized on snippets of the correspondence that became public last Friday to suggest that President Obama’s White House staff had taken an active role in altering the talking points.

In releasing them, White House officials were hoping to show that intelligence officials, not political advisers, drove the debate over the talking points.

It remained unclear why Mr. Morrell objected to the inclusion of the warnings and whether his objections or the State Department’s played the dominant role in having them removed.

After the release, Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, criticized what he called the “political nature” of the State Department’s requested changes.

“This release is long overdue, and there are relevant documents the administration has still refused to produce,” Mr. Buck said. “We hope, however, that this limited release of documents is a sign of more cooperation to come.”

Democrats — including some of Mr. Obama’s former top aides — said Wednesday morning that the administration would have to release all of the e-mails in an effort to prove that the president had nothing to hide.

“I think they would benefit from getting all these e-mails out in public,” David Axelrod, a former senior adviser, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program.

During a brief news conference on Monday, Mr. Obama dismissed the Republican inquiry into the Benghazi aftermath as a “sideshow” and said there was nothing to the accusations of a cover-up.

“Suddenly, three days ago,” the president told reporters, “this gets spun up as if there’s something new to the story. There’s no ‘there’ there.”

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