Former State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland claimed Thursday to have never seen Susan Rice’s erroneous Sunday show talking points in their final form blaming the Benghazi terrorist attack on a spontaneous protest, despite her known involvement in editing them to remove references to al-Qaeda at the behest of her agency superiors.
Nuland, testifying at her confirmation hearing for assistant secretary of state, also said she did not recall the precise date the administration was confident it was a terrorist attack, but said her own talking points “would obviously have derived” from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s mentions of terrorism after the assault:
SEN. JIM RISCH: When was the first time that you were advised that this was a terrorist attack?
VICTORIA NULAND: Senator, I don’t recall the precise date that we moved to being confident that it was a terrorist attack, but I do recall that the president made reference in that first week to a terrorist attack, and I believe that Secretary Clinton did as well on the Friday, so my talking points would obviously have derived from what they were ready to say and what the intelligence indicated.
Next, Nuland said she did not read any intelligence reporting that week because “it was difficult to keep one brain for the public and one brain privately” and that she merely “was the conveyor of agreed policy.” She then said that with the president’s reference to terror in the Rose Garden, it was “quite clear” that’s what the U.S. was dealing with. However, at her press conference the day after the Sunday appearances, Nuland told reporters Rice was “very clear, very precise, about what our initial assessment of what happened,” despite Rice calling the assault the result of a YouTube video:
RISCH: Well of course, Susan Rice was on TV telling people indeed they didn’t know whether it was a terrorist attack. You’re aware of that, are you not?
NULAND: I’m aware of those programs, yes.
RISCH: What other information did you have that this was a terrorist attack and when did you get it in the first 48 hours?
NULAND: Senator, I just need to remind that I was not in a policy job. I was in a communications job at that time, so I was frankly not reading intelligence reporting because it was difficult to keep one brain for the public and one brain privately. I was the conveyor of agreed policy and agreed decision-making about what we could say publicly. I think it was quite clear when the president made his first reference to terror that this is what we were dealing with, but I never took an intelligence briefing myself that week.
RISCH: Since then, have you gone back and looked at that intelligence information that you had access to?
NULAND: Sir, it was not something that I was privy to because I didn’t need it in the jobs I was in.
Finally, Nuland said she did not speak with Susan Rice herself between the time of the attack and her Sunday show appearances.
RISCH: Did you help in choosing Susan Rice to speak on the Sunday talk shows?
NULAND: No, sir.
RISCH: Did you brief her at all?
NULAND: No, sir.
RISCH: You had no conversations with her from the time of the attack until she appeared on the Sunday talk shows?
NULAND: I had no conversations with Susan Rice herself. We had inter-agency discussion, which her staff participated in, on the days that I briefed, which was the Wednesday, the Thursday, the Friday. I never spoke to her. I frankly never saw the talking points that were prepared for her in final form. As I said, when I saw the talking points, they were for members of the House Intelligence Committee.
Nuland’s involvement in editing the talking points has made her a controversial figure in the investigation into the attack and the subsequent administration response. The CIA talking points on which administration officials relied during initial public interviews were edited multiple times to remove references to al-Qaeda and terrorism at the behest of State Department and White House officials, according to emails obtained by congressional investigators, the Washington Free Beacon reported:
Nuland said her superiors were not happy with the talking points and were concerned Congress would use them against the State Department, according to the Standard. She did not name the superiors.
The emails were quoted in a recent congressional report suggesting former Secretary of State Clinton had an interest in downplaying the consulate attack since she had approved a plan to reduce security at the U.S. diplomatic missions in Libya in April 2012.
The talking points originally stated the government “know[s] that Islamic extremists with ties to al Qaeda participated in the attack.” The final draft was reportedly edited to remove references to al Qaeda, and “Islamic extremists” was changed to just “extremists.”
The term “attack” was replaced with “demonstrations.”