Obama dismisses Benghazi talking points controversy as a 'sideshow'
By Carrie Dann, Political Reporter, NBC News
WASHINGTON (NBC) -- President Barack Obama on Monday derided the controversy over inter-agency talking points drafted in the wake of last year's Benghazi attack, saying that charges of a politically motivated cover-up are a "sideshow" and little more than a "political circus."
"The whole thing defies logic," Obama said at a White House event with British Prime Minister David Cameron. "And the fact that this whole thing keeps getting churned out, frankly, has a lot to do with political motivations."
The president defended his administration against persistent allegations that it tried to disguise the Benghazi attack as a spontaneous riot instead of an act of terror – charges Obama dismisses as little more than a "political circus."
Those accusations again dominated headlines last week, when leaked emails showed that State Department officials suggested changes to the official talking points crafted after the Sept. 11, 2012 incident. That attack on the diplomatic compound left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Those changes included the deletion of mentions to specific terrorist groups.
On Monday, Obama said those edits reflected the intelligence agency's lack of immediate clarity about exactly what prompted the attack, which occurred at the same time that a video offensive to Muslims had prompted spontaneous riots elsewhere in the Middle East.
"The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow," he said. "What we have been very clear about throughout was that immediately after this event happened, we were not clear who exactly had carried it out, how it had occurred, what the motivations were."
"There's no there, there," he said of the leaked emails, which congressional investigators reviewed earlier this year but which were not reported on until last week.
Noting that National Counterterrorism Center chief Matt Olsen specifically labeled the assault "an act of terrorism" just days after attack, Obama said Republicans who characterize the administration's response to the attack as anything other than due diligence on the part of intelligence officials are merely trying to exact political damage on their Democratic opponents.
"Who executes some sort of cover up or effort to tamp things down for three days?" he asked.
Despite the president's evident frustration with the GOP's line of questioning on Benghazi, the administration will get little respite from congressional skeptics, who have pledged to keep probing its response to the Libya attack.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has asked that Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Admiral Mike Mullen – the two officials who conducted an independent review of the incident on behalf of the State Department – be interviewed by investigators.
Issa has said that the independent review failed to adequately question top State Department officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.