- CIA station chief in Benghazi, Libya told CIA that the al-Qaeda-linked attack was not the product of a spontaneous protest
- Morell, then the deputy CIA director, said Wednesday that he overruled that report and sided with analysts who weren’t there when editing talking points
- He insisted that ‘none of our actions were the result of political influence. None,’ but sent the talking points to the White House for ‘final coordination’
- Morell left the CIA in 2013 and joined a Washington, D.C. consultancy co-founded by the principal gatekeeper to Hillary Clinton
- Benghazi is seen as a major failure of the Clinton-led State Department, and a potential albatross hampering her 2016 presidential aspirations
Published: 12:12 EST, 2 April 2014 | Updated: 15:01 EST, 2 April 2014
Former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell bobbed and weaved his way through a contentious House Intelligence Committee hearing on Wednesday, parrying Republicans’ suggestions that politics colored his decision to downplay the role of terrorism in the Benghazi, Libya attack that killed four Americans in 2012.
‘None of our actions were the result of political influence. None,’ Morell said, describing a chain of events that began with an armed assault on U.S. diplomatic stations and ended with then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice misleading five national television audiences about the nature of the attack.
The CIA altered a series of talking points requested by senior Intelligence Committee members – meant to educate their newer colleagues – removing references to terrorism and casting the death and destruction as the product of a spontaneous protest.
On Wednesday Morell complained openly about allegations that he acted ‘for the political benefit of President Obama and then-Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton. These allegations are false.’
Morell has kept largely silent in the intervening 18 months, but left the CIA last year to join a Washington, D.C. consultancy with strong links to Mrs. Clinton, who ran the State Department when Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other personnel perished in the attack.
Former Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell testified Wednesday about his role in altering talking points describing the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi, Libya
Republicans are angry about wholesale changes made to the CIA’s official version of what happened in Benghazi — changes that ignored the observations of the Libyan station chief who reported in with a terror-attack story
The episode, and Clinton’s publicly dismissive responses to it, is seen as a potential albatross around her neck as she prepares for a presidential run that most observers see as inevitable.
Beacon Global Strategies, Morell’s employer, is a ten-person firm whose co-founders include Philippe Reines, a senior counselor to Mrs. Clinton when she ran the State Department. Reines is still her spokesman, serving in that capacity in what New York magazine calls ‘a second full-time job.’
‘And if she runs again – he claims he doesn’t know if she will – Reines will be onboard,’ the magazine concluded in February.
Meaning that Morell, as a senior official at Beacon, will also likely be part of the Clinton spin machine.
A senior staffer to a Republican House Intelligence Committee member told MailOnline after the morning hearing concluded that ‘a bunch of us are bothered by Morell’s changing stories, and by his use of Washington’s revolving doors.’
‘He would be a lot more believable if his paychecks weren’t signed by Hillary Clinton’s right-hand man,’ the aide confided
Morell testified Wednesday that after a first draft of his agency’s talking points about the Benghazi fiasco made the rounds inside the State Department, Clinton’s agency was ‘very upset about … warning language’ that was included.
‘As a result,’ he recalled, ‘the talking points are in limbo. They’re stuck.’
Getting them unstuck, history shows, required the softening of language and the removal of all references to terrorist groups.
‘We do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qa’ida participated in the attack,’ the first draft had read.
Later versions described only an ‘on-going’ investigation to learn ‘who is responsible for the violence.’
The result, Morell said, was shared with the White House for ‘final coordination.’
He has testified previously, however, that there was no coordination at all.
Morell defended the talking-point changes on Wednesday, saying that his chief of station’s report – which leaned heavily on terrorism as a cause – ‘was not compelling’ enough to override the judgment of his own analysts. They had already determined, incorrectly, that armed protesters attacked American consular buildings after a demonstration spiraled out of control.
Those decisions were based, in part, on press reports that appeared between the attack on Sept. 11 and the talking points discussions on Sept. 15.
‘Let me make clear that we know that the analysts had an evidentiary basis to make the judgment that there was a protest ongoing at the time of the attack,’ Morell testified. ‘All together, there were roughly a dozen or so reports indicating that this was the case.’
‘These included press accounts – including public statements by the Libyan Government and by extremists. And they included intelligence reports from CIA, the National Security Agency, and the Department of Defense.’
When his station chief reported in to say something completely different, Morell saw his account as the outlier in an otherwise consistent picture, which later turned out to be wrong.
In emails later uncovered by Congress, CIA Director David Petraeus called the resulting talking-point language ‘useless.’
That may not be true politically.
Good soldier: Morell is now employed by a firm whose co-founders include Hillary Clinton’s chief gatekeeper and public spokesman
The issue has become a political gold mine for Republicans of all stripes, especially given Mrs. Clinton’s fiery testimony in a now-infamous 2013 Senate hearing.
Asked to explain the discrepancies between the Obama White House’s post-Benghazi proclamations and the CIA’s contemporaneous observations, she entered the annals of regrettable sound bites.
‘Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans?’ Clinton asked with her arms outstretched.
‘What difference – at this point, what difference does it make?’
Michigan republican Rep. Mike Rogers, who chairs the committee, claimed the White House ultimately used the doctored talking points ‘to perpetuate its own misguided political agenda.’
‘The White House wants to ignore reality and perpetuate the fallacy that al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists are on the verge of defeat,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Democratic stalwart Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois claimed there was a ‘partisan smear campaign.’ targeting the White House and Mrs. Clinton.
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