Transcript for Digital Report: State Dept. Briefing on Benghazi Investigation
This is a special report from ABC news. Hello everyone I'm Tanya Rivero and this is an ABC news digital special report. New questions today about the Obama administration's handling of the deadly attack on the American diplomatic mission in -- -- in Libya in memos obtained exclusively by ABC's Jonathan Karl. Evidence that the State Department made repeated edits to the official account. Removing potentially damaging details even as White House officials denied anyone but the CIA had a hand in the explanation. We take you now -- to the State Department -- deputy spokesman Patrick vendrell is meeting the press let's listen. So the question wasn't whether the violent extremists. Obviously the war. But rather the question -- who exactly they word. And -- there was also demonstration at that time it appears there wasn't despite the best intelligence assessments of the time. Part of the reason that news agencies -- now quoting from these is because. He made them available to congress earlier this year a -- months ago. And so the -- -- talking points were based on intelligence can use assessments. -- -- the best assessment at that time in terms of the State Department -- when you've mentioned the spokespersons. Person's office let me be clear. The State Department first review the points on that Friday evening after the attacks with the understanding that they were prepared for public use by members of congress. And we in the spokespersons office. -- to primary concerns at that time. That the points went further. In assigning responsibility then preliminary assessment suggested. And there was concern about preserving the integrity of the investigation. And secondly the points -- consistent with the publicly which administration had used to date. Meaning members of congress would be providing more guidance to the public. In the demonstration. And so those -- the two concerns we raised. The -- the spokespersons office I can't get into the full. Interagency discussion that was held in every aspect of that clearly there were many other agencies involved and in the White House and others but that's what to tell you about the State Department and our spokespersons office role. The night if that Friday. It had charged that seems is that the CIA you warrant says and he made. The original draft. -- -- seems to indicate that the CIA warned the State Department several times about. -- -- -- Through these documents that they said that they prepared that the State Department ignored the warnings -- this did it is CIA. At any time -- the State Department about a growing Islamic threat and -- -- It's what can I can't get into intelligence assessments and how they were shared between agencies. Or -- the back and forth between. -- and the CIA in in this regard but what I said earlier I think you were just talking and only suspect. Two things -- -- constant threat we always said that it was and all versions of this that it it was extremists and and also this notion of of the protest was in the intelligence assessment from the beginning. And through to the end that was later. That tells -- he's talked about. There updated information when they when they updated that assessment. And then I did also I have -- to -- -- raise one other thing in that is and this is something that's come -- this week this notion that. Mr. Nixon testified to that somehow the FBI investigation. Was. Slow down as a result of these talking points I just wanted to take that that's another thing that I wanted to be. Very clear about. Just remind people that the Libyan government. Granted visas to the FBI team on the day of those Sunday talk shows they got their flight clearance the next day. And they arrived in Tripoli on September 18. The reason they couldn't travel to Ben -- was because of the security situation on the ground and I just want to point out to the people this is something that seems have been lost in the back and forth that. People that when he was with Secretary Clinton this is the Libyan prime minister a joint press appearance on September 24 about a week later but -- got. He made clear that. They would do everything and -- that whatever is necessary to expedite the investigation. Into the incident and to pursue -- -- justice. Those perpetrators so we we really reject that things -- Does that -- that exclusive -- first question you. Here's. An effort to -- these changes and leaders. I mean again I can't speak to every word that's been cherry pick from these emails but I can tell you as a spokesperson myself and the way that we do an agency talking points. Words carry community emails are out there that's how Republicans excerpts of various emails are have been taken. And you feel that -- feel that if we were able to read the emails in their entirety they would show some kind of context that we -- understand who. Christina threw only one piece of the lighter -- -- discussion of this and so when you take them. And snippets of them they can be taken out of context and the me -- -- -- -- at least the things that I made clear a lot of things that doesn't necessarily come across in the snippets that have been out there. It specifically that we and spokespersons office we're looking at them as talking points for members of the house at that time there's a wider area -- interagency discussion about. How they were developed and -- -- at the intelligence community makes their assessments that's a different question so. I mean what does it matter if they -- for ambassador rights are there for congress -- talking points -- its. Are pretty much just like your recent knowledge of Italian -- I guess that's part of the. And if in terms of us that the spokespersons level -- tactical assessments are made about -- speaking in what's been said -- and you know -- we're preparing to go to the podium after. We haven't been for weekends sometimes what's gonna be sent out there will affect how we're gonna brief leaders of -- -- -- -- the concerns we raise. -- a spokespersons office and when you say you're raising it. That means that some of the policy makers are also gonna be taking a look at I can't speak in the specific case to the exact context of who's been referred to but in general terms when -- -- public affairs officers are spokespeople and inside an organization are negotiating on -- sometimes we. Make additional reference to other. Individuals or other policy makers so that's the context I can provide in general terms about how we operate -- Press spokespeople and we and we very frequently and discussions whether it's over email or other format about what. Not only the best language -- -- the best tactics and in terms of explaining what we're talking about two. Two journalists and to others and to. -- he's he's seemed to suggest that -- even though say it just reading snippets of the amounts don't really fully and accurately. I'm described the concerns that you had so why not just released the fully announce that the -- -- this. That this wasn't about you know some kind of cover. Well first -- -- -- we've shared BC -- With the congress but let me finish and and that's been part of their concern was to see a number of these documents which we shared thousands of documents and the including these in terms of any reduction that would be necessary an entire email chain in terms of sensitive personal items about identifying information -- -- -- the things that go through the standard election process to make public release that's a separate process that goes to the lord is my -- Speak to -- on an individual document but suffice it to say to be transparent with the congress went who wanted -- this attrition we shared with the congress. Graham chairman. -- that you probably. Trained and -- should testify. What does. Had a busy parents feel about that. -- relate to them I mean there was a back and forth and you heard ambassador Pickering talk about a little bit before that they're -- process with. The committees where. You know but there are prevented from testifying -- so there was some concern there whether the committee decides that they wanted to testify and those. Here be members wanted to -- -- to them but. There was some concern that they were willing to testify in -- lesser Pickering in particular spoke to the -- this week about his willingness and and there was some confusion about why he wasn't. Brought into the hearing earlier in the week senate -- -- it. -- -- That wouldn't necessarily -- thrust it would be directly commandments it's individuals. Who completion. Subject that can't -- that the city has just said that -- -- evidence. That the Sudanese regime has used gas against his people. Can -- elaborate on that and what kind of evidence. -- And you think -- Siemens Siemens -- Again that -- this is consist of what we said before in terms of the evidence that's out there that we're looking at very scrupulously and very thoroughly. To try to make a final assessment. The intelligence community had made some initial assessments but again we're looking at this very closely. And continuing to review it and -- -- very careful methodical way. Look what he means -- that yes -- good. She has -- -- -- again I think we've been clear here for a couple of weeks about. The concerns given our intelligence community assessment that and -- their regime might have resorted to these weapons but. Again we'll continue to look at that and there are rigorous and methodical way Turkey plants. It's it's. -- -- -- -- -- And again we continue -- assessment we're looking at very carefully and let me say this again we want to investigate and look for any and all use. Potentially using chemical weapons insights here -- local. You say any and Ali it's we've -- -- in your values regardless if you -- It's them. Always expressed our skepticism and and we remain skeptical that. The opposition would have the capability of the means. To deploy them it's the regime that that has these weapons but we want -- you know we use investigated and and that's why we've long called for them. UN monitors the UN inspectors to be allowed in to investigate all of these claims the regime -- claims the opposition made claims. But all of the need to be investigated and we've been very clear about that from the beginning. Investigation. I guess I can put a timeline on it but given the stakes are given. Yeah how important this is we wanna be very careful methodical and we'll continue to do that -- -- -- Tuesday. Accident scenes teaching substitute homes and he -- people. Olson on this -- -- and yet. We are concerned we've we've seen the reports and I -- -- a little -- information for you later in the day we're continue to assess have some of those reports but. We are deeply concerned and and perhaps more information related to -- -- -- that. I do and say add one thing. -- in -- -- masterly to master appear cure but just -- I talked a little bit about it yesterday about a master forward and his activities. Just add a little bit more detail to that I. Spoken now he was in the border region so on Thursday ambassador -- travel to the Syrian Turkey border where he met with members of the -- -- an army. Missing opposition. And participate in US government's delivery -- 52000 Emery is the Syrian coalition the supreme military council. He crossed briefly into Syrian territory but remained within the vicinity of the border crossing area. While the border crossing to discuss the situation on the ground with -- commanders. And other Syrians and the two commanders just for your reference. We're general Patrice and also mr. Keating. Who is the commander for -- northern and volatile region. -- briefly crossed -- -- and this is in the context of the border vicinity you know where these border checkpoints are sometimes. Right in the middle where the checkpoint where that actually sat down -- have a discussion was just sat there was a few yards incidence of serious. That he's -- Well again this is somebody who in -- you know you do know the history here of course that we had evacuated Nasser Ford and his. Eventually was was considered persona non Grata by the by the regime but from our perspective -- still the US ambassador to the people Syria. He's still a key point person. -- Never officials did. We've not broken. The bilateral relationship formally but. We continue to conduct the minimal. Necessary communication through that to protect and power. And we're grateful to the -- protected -- for the services they provide including for US citizens. Could be broken ties after two years it. You -- that's -- sort of a question for the lawyers in terms of formal breaking out. Ties with the regime we do have ways of communicating with regime as necessary in. We maintain -- open channel but again we have senior citizens indeed -- The -- protected her continues to. -- -- Of this -- put this Internet. Texas an artist whose -- -- so plastic. Are you that state. She -- And there -- oh. Sore throat and let's take you don't yet. Let me say a little bit about the specific case and take a step back and talk about export control. So that we don't comment on whether we have individual on going compliance matters I can in this case confirmed that the State Department has been in communication with this. Company on the broader issue of export control exports of non automatic and semi automatic firearms up to fifty caliber are controlled under the US munitions list. In accordance with arms export control act. He -- engages in the US in the business of manufacturing or exporting defense articles. Furnishing defense services or engages in arms -- covered by the international traffic in arms regulations Itar. Is required to register with the State Department -- the director of defense trade controls. Separate from this registration requirement. Needed for export of defense articles in most cases. So we view the export of defense articles and -- service is an integral part. The safeguarding US national security and further US foreign policy objectives. And the US is cognizant of the potentially adverse consequences. Of indiscriminate. Arms transfers and therefore we strictly regulate export of defense items and technologies to protect our national interests. It's -- written. Again I am I don't have more than I can say about the specific case of NC we've been in touch strictly the company and it outlined for you very clearly -- -- export. Control concerns are and what the regulations are. I can -- that -- bureau of political military affairs is is the lead bureau on these issues. I don't have a specific individual. To -- one way or another round of the specific topic. Robinson says that it -- you'd expect to be involved via next meeting. And I'm wondering if your -- He -- we've been very clear about the nefarious role that Iran. Has Clinton continues to play I don't have any updates in terms of our scheduling more. The details this upcoming conference but we've been clear about the Iranian -- -- -- In this -- -- so big group that the United States is aware of this incident between the Philippine law enforcement vessel and one -- more Taiwan fishing boats that resulted in the death of one. -- fisherman. We welcome the Philippine government's pledge to conduct a full and transparent investigation into the incident and to work with the Taiwan authorities to establish what transpired. And so we urge all parties to ensure maritime safety and to refrain from actions that could escalate tensions in the region and undermine the prospects for diplomatic. Or other peaceful resolution differences. It's. Tactics. Police said the -- gonna conduct an investigation and what we want is a fully transparent investigation into the specifics of the incident. -- -- -- somebody dying babies -- obstinacy and. Well -- let's see what the investigation says before we make for the judgment. And then -- this is our Philippine waters. Do -- believe -- spends quietly is disputed whether. I'm not aware of where the incident actually occurred I don't know if we have at the definitive understanding this is again one of the things we hope that that investigation. Can clarify. -- -- It has either side -- to strictly I'm not aware that they've been in direct touch with us. Since this incident occurred but we maintain. Contact with both parties grandfather you have any. That you teach music. -- So the secretary -- a good meeting this morning with Cypriot foreign minister. Pass a -- -- Cyprus is a good friend and partner the United States with whom we worked for many years. They discussed US support for efforts to reunify Cyprus is -- -- zone bi communal federation under the auspices of the UN the good offices mission led by mister downer. Secretary Kerry express your support for efforts to restore the Cypriot. The company to path of stability and growth they also talked about energy exploration these human -- Mediterranean and other issues. -- -- Michelle. I'm not aware that it that it did this is really the presidential -- Yesterday. It really is a Department of Justice matter though so when we tuchman extraditions that's it that's -- DOJ concern. Six 86. Flooding won't. Six. -- Today. We'll speak sources we'll Sutton stations. Mrs. And -- Yet and it's. So we shall we are -- press reports that April 6 youth movement leader Ahmed Maier was detained by authorities on his arrival at the Cairo airport today. It just happened a few hours ago and were still seeking to. Confirm these reports but of course if it were true -- -- express our concerns and but at this time we're still seeking more information so I did one mentioned he has met with several when he was here on this trip met with several senior state -- -- officials. As do many visiting activists and and politicians from across the political spectrum in -- so he had been meeting with us. We're seeking more information. And once we have that we'll we'll be -- express for the position. Egyptian mobile. -- I'm gonna work for embassy in Cairo has been. And discuss with the authorities. -- -- on the specific consultative Canada and given to connect. Can describe. -- Election security situation. So -- the question -- -- in light of the current unsettled conditions around major anti government demonstrations Tripoli the undersecretary for management. Has approved the order department the departure of non emergency personnel from Libya. That you know the department's German concern is -- safety. And the personal safety of all of our. Employees and so. At this time. We can confirm that a handful of our staff members have indeed. -- -- Our our embassy in Tripoli still open and still functioning. -- making it. -- actions against companion. And you -- management. In which one. -- may ask me. Was fountains to diocese. Has -- Asia best. Is -- patient intermediaries. Wendy. -- Women have to look into that free after the briefing I don't have. More. Specifics on that particular company in guiding and and TA exception -- We -- exemptions. Whether 120 days -- -- on the exemptions but I don't have anything to announce at this time. Could it -- Let's get this instruments in six that. Oreo 1 August. Try to please. The American student -- School on U. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- Which provides. An update -- We should situation just. To -- -- the united. Well -- -- let me say we've spoken to -- mr. Rodman. And his engagement North Korean pastor don't have anything on credit American travel time to say in that regard. But we do understand that it DP RK Supreme Court. We understand that -- DP RK Supreme Court. Conviction of US citizen can't pay for hostile acts against the -- DP RK. And -- -- -- went through fifteen years of compulsory labor. There's no greater -- interest in the welfare and safety of citizens abroad and we urge to DP RK authorities to grant yesterday amnesty and immediate release. -- relationship between China. -- as special relationship was used to do you do everything to relations between the United States and England. Com so -- the United States asks. China to exercise its next move Korea we've -- I can't remember using that specific word but. The point that I was trying to make is that there's a unique relationship historically between the two countries in terms of economic influence and and other interactions between the two countries that was the gist of the -- of -- -- -- there. Had to do next Hazen of government passed Chinese government's goal to help. They case. I'm not aware that we really raised the case through Chinese channels but you did -- that the -- -- -- of course that. Good Davies is traveling in the region and will meet with -- Chinese counterpart in addition. To South Korea Japan. So we put that -- -- go ahead. Luis welcome back to State Department briefing room and you -- and we mischief here we know that -- -- -- the Pentagon frequently initiated. There was a report earlier today and it not -- us -- Yesterday -- it. It is -- -- citation -- -- it. So we are aware of the death of -- US citizen in Mexico City. We've been in contact with family members are providing appropriate console assistant assistant at their request we have no further comment at this time. -- -- It can anchor back to because he really quick snippet. Looking at you wouldn't say earlier on talking about the picture that these -- -- music your opinion in a minute presentation here that these documents. And from -- publicized earlier today. Present kind of an incomplete picture of what was actually occurring with a knee -- -- What can I can't speak to the -- and urgency militarily speak for the State Department so I don't know if I'd have the visibility to be able to speak about the -- -- an -- process but. What we've said all along in the Terry -- inner agency settle and that is that these were. Points drafted by the CIA and circulated through the inner agency process. As points normally are. -- -- -- -- It. -- the secretary referred to his -- -- was -- -- -- -- continues to be in touch with. Staff and members on the hell is necessary. To follow up -- there any outstanding issues that they have. -- -- Think -- We just heard Patrick -- trial deputy spokesman of State Department answering reporters' questions and lightly addressing. The way information on the attack of the US consulate and Ben -- was distributed and whether or not it was manipulated. And -- insisted the most important details about the attacks such as that extremists were responsible. Have been consistent. And denied there was any deliberate manipulation of the information or its release he also said. Due to the deteriorating security situation in Libya right now a number of US government personnel have recently left Tripoli. And we are joined now by ABC news political director Rick Klein high -- -- hi there. So Rick Jay Carney the white house Press Secretary said there was one -- it made it to the Ben -- talking points and that it was just a minor -- We now know that he was wrong there were at least twelve at -- what's been the response on the hill. It outrage from a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill over that particular point of the White House hasn't actually responded yet in a big way they're gonna it and pushing back their press briefing all day presumably try to get these talking points in order. But this is a critical piece of it because the White House contention the broad contention on this was. Politics and play a role in this this was about getting the language right was coming from the intelligence community the CIA was writing this it was based on what they had -- wasn't based on politics anyway. But the idea this was bouncing between. Multiple agencies between the CIA between the State Department between the White House. If typical in the federal bureaucracy that this happens but the idea in this case was that the White House just allow the talking points to move forward because the CIA said it was that way. Clearly they were political considerations clearly there were massive -- its. And clearly some of those -- had to deal with worries about political fall out all of those things had not been acknowledged previously by the White House or by the State Department. Let's have a specific nature of some of these -- -- what exactly was being taken out or held back from the public. There -- a couple of points here I think the most critical one was -- a little section. That that the CIA had and they are about previous threats that had been leveled against against US interests in Libya. That these kind of a background on that would knowing about the threats in that area and the response that came from the State Department was. This is an issue in our building instant meaning the State Department because we don't -- fodder to members of congress that to me -- opens the doors to any kind of political implications and is being part of this -- can't say. That we never thought about politics they didn't -- Republicans in congress they didn't say congressional critics. But the idea that they were knowingly keeping information away from members of congress because they were worried. About the criticism they may yet I think undercuts the whole argument that this had nothing to do with politics. OK so cool and then it will suffer the most politically here -- the state Hillary Clinton's time at the State Department or in any way hurt her. Perhaps presidential ambitions. I think one of the intriguing things about the deterrence of the story took this week is that it went from being -- question about president Obama's leadership to being more specific about Hillary Clinton's leadership. That has to do with these talking points and the idea that. Her top aides were involved in crafting. A version of events -- -- version of information has more favorable to that it also -- there with a whistle -- heard from on Wednesday. It also have to do with strategic Republicans looking ahead and saying you know what -- -- -- not running for president again. God forbid and -- -- -- go with that they'll clearly this a lot of this has to do with politics and in fact one of the challenges in getting to the bottom of all of this and weeding through the -- is -- try to filter out things that are purely politically motivated purely about 2016. Vs what's actually getting at the facts of what happened if you don't accept that. President Obama had evil intentions throughout this and was trying to keep ate away from people that that they could have been saved otherwise if you don't accept that. He was trying to craft. Political talking points -- to win an election what actually happened and I write what Republicans of getting it now and it's getting lost a lot of this noise is they feel like they've gotten in against Hillary Clinton and less -- almost bulletproof politically. And they feel like that is in the case anymore. So they're gonna hang onto it at all costs I'm sure and that now how. Of these -- could though be looked out and say you know there just was some some honest confusion here. Also this -- someone that is involved in the collaborative process called television every day. It's happened throughout process any organization. Goes through this kind of process and particularly in national security situations we remember that that State of the Union Address that President Bush gave where he talked about yellow cake uranium from the share. And how people dropped the ball and editing that process particularly since then. There were multiple agencies that have different viewpoints and different points of view and in different interests as well. Some of it is is purely about protecting their own interest some of it is just getting a lot of it we hope is getting out of the facts involved in this. But clearly there are going to be revisions are going to be there's -- -- be confusion because not everyone knows exactly what happened in real time. The the question -- -- motivation we might just getting -- trying to portray an accurate portrait or were you injecting some kind of political. Political will motivations into it and that's where this starts -- -- and a dangerous territory for the Obama administration's suggestion that politics played a role. In crafting the words that they were going out there and try to inform the public about in real time. Now course we were hoping to hear from the Obama administration. Today on this topic what he what are the chances we're gonna get an eleventh hour Friday afternoon statement at 530 about this. I don't think the president himself I'd be surprised just from a PR perspective -- for the president himself out on this because. That would that would make this -- even bigger story is already. I think the White House is clearly gonna have to face -- questions today as I said David pushing back this briefing. Throughout the day which a lot of reporters no means that they are out behind the scenes scrambling and strongly in holding in making sure they -- they get this right because they know they're only gonna have one shot. I think particularly the Press Secretary Jay Carney he's in a difficult spot on this because he assured. The very publicly that they would only been one sort of minor -- -- inserted by the white house on this clearly there are a lot more changes that we're going on behind the scenes. That anyone was -- meeting at the time. President Obama is actually making a statement on affordable health -- right now chances are he probably will not mentioning this as you said -- -- I'm glad that your word thank god he will come out of his -- -- have -- -- right do any clue about how the administration is. Planning to handle this have you heard anything. What I've heard from a number of Democrats is this is just more Republican -- that of course. We're gonna change things as part of the deliberative collaborative process you know these events happened they were surprisingly were shocking events and then. If people were building up to the next couple days a lot of speculation they knew they had one chance to get it right a big public way -- senses and rice the UN ambassador out there to multiple Sunday shows. -- platform a big megaphone for them to tell their side of the story. They wanted to get it right so of course they had lots of people way and and they had some people disagree with each other about what should be in there right again it -- that the old adage about the cover -- in the crimes in this news brings to mind because. You do have a situation where the White House went so far in trying to say that there was no chance that politics was involved in this. That other forces explain that -- actually you know what we did talk politics just it right away. -- is at the end of the day let's say they have to admit that I mean. This isn't Watergate we're talking about a mean is this being blown out of proportion of that. The debate is -- what you believe happened that at the end of this -- there's actually some Republican congressman. That flat out say this is Watergate -- one who said. If it Watergate and Iran Contra and multiply -- by ten -- in the neighborhood loudly because fumbled right here. So there are many people that are buying -- that a unit Mike Huckabee said earlier in the week impeachment. I -- heard that word escape the lips of members of congress have much credibility in the last couple of days but this is clearly building into something. I think unless there is that there is some huge aspect of this that. You know for purely crass political reasons the president is -- is known to have deny -- in the military backed up to people that there's lights could have been saved. I mean some kind of really nixonian tactics in terms of shaping the message here things that are well beyond the pale I think -- what most people expect happened here I don't think we reach that level but I do think these are these are legitimate and and very relevant questions asked in the war on terror. In the -- by the by the White House or any administration to try to shape a message around something these are important questions and I think they actually you got more relevant and more important as a result of the events this week. Absolutely and it seems pretty clear that there was an increased issue into security. On the US consulate there and whether or not that was handled is a legitimate question for shore. No doubt and it's not an issue that's been fully dressed now -- her that members of congress today. As well that we have to make sure we got more security act consulates and embassy facilities and the -- and he clearly this is something a tragedy. That -- struck America for the first time in more than three decades that have an ambassador murdered. -- US facility is just unconscionable absolutely and not we were not -- for. And what you -- that was going on in Libya right now of course we hear that some US personnel have been. Asked to return nonessential US personnel but the security situation is deteriorating as we speak. Though it certainly as an answer and hasn't gone any better. In the months since then in the anti -- interests have been a lot better protected. In the months since the attack -- -- -- but it's by no means secure situation and and again this is not necessarily. On the high list of hot spots that that that the the president the administration is worried about right now. They have much more pressing issues that are developing in Syria dated -- -- right re out there -- ran out there. The idea that even in -- -- you'd have these kind of problems these kind of security situations is is particularly troubling. Absolutely work Rick clients and they tell me this is not the last that you and I are we talking about this thank you so much. Thank you and for more on the investigation into the -- Obama administration's handling of the attack on the US diplomatic mission in and got the -- abcnews.com. I'm Tanya Rivero in New York in this has been an ABC news digital special report. This has been a special report from ABC news --
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