A former spokesman for the National Security Council is offering new insights into how and why administration talking points on last September's attack in Benghazi were altered.
Tommy Vietor, who left the administration earlier this year, wrote in an e-mail to journalists Wednesday that various agencies editing and revising talking points was routine, and that Republican allegations the changes were politically charged are "just silly."
READ THE FULL E-MAIL AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST
He also said the White House could have been clearer in describing how it was involved in altering the talking points, and which document it was altering.
Republicans' accusations of an administration-led cover up in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attack were fueled last week by the release of internal e-mails showing top administration officials scrubbing any mention of al Qaeda from talking points given to members of Congress and Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
The unclassified talking points have become a political flashpoint in a long-running battle between the administration and Republicans, who say that officials knew the attack last September 11 was a planned terror operation while they were telling the public it was an act of violence that grew out of a demonstration over a video produced in the United States that insulted Islam.
That was the story that Rice told five days later when she made the rounds of all five Sunday morning television talk shows.
In his note Wednesday, Vietor noted that intelligence officials had told him "that there were many different strands of information indicating there was a protest, both open source and intelligence based," but that information turned out to be inaccurate.
Last week, news organizations reported on an interagency discussion over the talking points that included White House, State Department, CIA, FBI and Justice Department officials.
Vietor explained those talking points -- or a "white paper" -- originated at the CIA as a document for members of the House Intelligence Committee to use during television interviews.
The paper went through multiple revisions, according to e-mail discussions described to CNN and to Vietor himself. Those revisions have led to accusations from Republicans the Obama administration was altering the talking points to scrub them of any reference to al Qaeda, since Obama had campaigned using as a tough-on-terror president.
Vietor, however, said the alteration of the talking points was a routine practice in government.
"Regarding the talking points, it's not surprising that the entire government would want the chance to look at and edit that language," he wrote. "This was a dynamic situation and new information was constantly flowing in, and different agencies had important concerns that had to be addressed -- the State Department had security concerns, the FBI was worried about its investigation, and the CIA had a major, yet still undisclosed, role."
In the e-mails between administration officials hashing out the Benghazi talking points, a source told CNN that then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland raised concerns over the CIA's first version of the talking points, saying that they went further than what she was allowed to say about the attack during her briefings and that she believed the CIA was attempting to exonerate itself at the State Department's expense by suggesting CIA warnings about the security situation were ignored.
But Vietor said that at a Saturday morning meeting between various officials, a representative of the CIA actually agreed with the State Department's concerns, and drafted a revised version taking them into account.
It was that version that was altered by White House -- they changed the word "consulate" to "diplomatic post," Vietor said. White House officials had consistently maintained they only made "stylistic" tweaks to the Benghazi talking points, beginning in November when it was first revealed the documents had been changed.
"I think it's fair to say that we could've been clearer that we were referring to this final CIA version of the talking points when we said we made one edit, but the fact that the government edited these points isn't surprising or at all nefarious -- it's routine," Vietor wrote.
-- CNN Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper contributed to this report.
A number of you have asked me about the Benghazi talking points issue since I'm mentioned in the email traffic. I obviously no longer speak for the White House, and I'm not sending this at their request or with their approval, but I wanted to offer a bit of context given my experience.
As has been reported, after the attacks the House Intelligence Committee requested what was referred to as a "white paper" on Benghazi -- essentially unclassified talking points about what had occurred that they could use on TV. So the CIA started working on a document that was responsive to this request.
When Ambassador Rice was going to appear on the Sunday shows, it made sense to provide her the same language that was being produced for the House Intelligence Committee. The shows wanted to interview a foreign policy surrogate the weekend for a number of reasons: 1) to discuss Benghazi and the work of our diplomats abroad 2) to discuss the protests of the "Innocence of Muslims" video that had inflamed the Arab world, 3) to answer questions about Iran and other issues that might arise from PM Netanyahu's appearances.
Regarding the talking points, it's not surprising that the entire government would want the chance to look at and edit that language. This was a dynamic situation and new information was constantly flowing in, and different agencies had important concerns that had to be addressed -- the State Department had security concerns, the FBI was worried about its investigation, and the CIA had a major, yet still undisclosed, role.
What most people don't understand is that purpose of the National Security Council is to coordinate the many national security agencies of the government -- in other words to get the State Department, DOD, intelligence community, etc.... into one room to hash out disagreements and make decisions.