WASHINGTON - Lawmakers said Sunday they want to know who had a hand in creating the Obama administration's now-discredited "talking points" about the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, and why a final draft omitted the CIA's early conclusion that terrorists were involved.
The answers could explain why President Barack Obama and top aides, including U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, described the attack for days afterward as a protest against an anti-Islam video that spontaneously turned violent and why they played down any potential link to al-Qaida, despite evidence to the contrary.
Administration officials have defended the portrayal of the attack as relying on the best information available at the time that didn't compromise classified intelligence. Democrats say CIA and other intelligence officials signed off on the talking points.
Republicans have accused White House aides of hiding the terrorism link in the months before the Nov. 6 presidential election so voters wouldn't question Obama's claim that al-Qaida's power had diminished.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she doesn't believe the White House altered the document for political reasons. But she said she has lingering concerns about how the talking points were created when it was clear early on that the military-style assault wasn't a simple protest gone awry.
The inquiry comes on the heels of closed testimony to the committees last week by former CIA Director David Petraeus. According to lawmakers who attended the meetings, Petraeus said the reference to al-Qaida was removed from the final version of talking points, although he wasn't sure who or which federal agency deleted it.