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White House Daily Briefing Aired

Aired May 10, 2013 - 15:30   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Want to let you know, we just got the two minute warning, here, for the White House daily briefing, which has been pushed back several times, now. So I'm guessing in 60 seconds or so, we will see Jay Carney step behind this podium.

And this is a big briefing today. Why? Because Benghazi will specifically be addressed, new questions about the investigation, the aftermath, and now this slew of e-mails that have surfaced.

Also, as Erin McPike was reporting from Washington now, the IRS apparently is targeting the tea party, so expect questions with regard to both of those.

Quickly, Gloria Borger, let me try to squeeze you in before we see Jay Carney step behind the podium and speak. What are you looking for?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think the White House has to explain why they said what they said about the cause for the terror attack in Benghazi.

And what we see from these e-mails that were first obtained by ABC News is that there were 12 iterations of talking points which went from a broader explanation, which was, in fact, more accurate, about what caused the attack, which included links to al Qaeda, down to the final version that was sort of scrubbed to the point, Brooke, where it wasn't accurate and didn't tell us anything, which talked about, you know, a spontaneous demonstration outside the consulate, which as we all know now is not the truth.

So what we're trying to unravel here is just how an explanation that started out as something that was closer to the truth, got so scrubbed that, by the time it came to the American public, either from Ambassador Rice or to others, that it turned out not to be accurate.

And so the White House is going to have to kind of walk us through that.

BALDWIN: Yeah, you mentioned the 12 different iterations of the talking points and, ultimately, we all saw Susan Rice making her rounds on Sunday morning and her talking points based upon that 12 iteration, as you mentioned that that was scrubbed.

As we, again, wait for -- here he is. Jay Carney, stepping up to the podium. Let's take it live.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: Good Friday afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. I appreciate your patience.

Before I take your questions, I just wanted to note, because it's been reported, we -- we did, as many of you know, have a background briefing here at the White House earlier. I think 14 news organizations were represented, ranging from online to broadcast TV, print and the like. And we do those periodically. We hope that participants find them helpful.

I will say that no one here believes that briefings like that are a substitute for this briefing, which is why I'm here today to take questions on whatever issues you want to ask me about.

And with that, I will go to the Associated Press.

QUESTION: Thanks, Jay. Two subjects, starting out with the IRS issue. IRS said that (inaudible) conservative groups with names like "patriots" or "tea party" (inaudible), and said that in some instances (inaudible) inappropriately (inaudible) and it has apologized.

When did the White House become aware that the IRS engaged in this? And in a tax collection system that relies on trust, isn't the IRS's credibility at stake here? And will the White House, as called on by Senator McConnell, call for an investigation?

CARNEY: Well, two things, Jim. I appreciate the question. And we've certainly seen those reports. My understanding is this matter is under investigation by the I.G. -- the -- at the IRS. The IRS, as you know, is an independent enforcement agency with only two political appointees. The fact of the matter is, what we know about this is of concern and we certainly find the actions taken, as reported, to be inappropriate. And we would fully expect the investigation to be thorough and for corrections to be made in a case like this.

And I believe the IRS has addressed that and has taken some action, and there's an investigation ongoing. But it certainly does seem to be, based on what we've seen, to be inappropriate action that we would want to see thoroughly investigated.

QUESTION: Even if the president was critical of some of these groups both in 2010 and 2012, isn't it natural for the public to think that these things are politically motivated? What assurances (inaudible)?

CARNEY: Well, I think that, first of all, two things need to be noted, which is IRS is an independent enforcement agency, which I believe, as I understand it, contains only two political appointees within it. The individual who was running the IRS at the time was actually an appointee from the previous administration.

But separate from that, there is no question that if this activity took place, it's inappropriate and there needs to be action taken. And the president would expect that it be thoroughly investigated and action would be taken.

QUESTION: On Benghazi, and with all due credit to my colleague on the (inaudible), we now have e-mails showing that the State Department pushed back against talking point language from the CIA and expressed concern about some of the information would be used politically in Congress. You have said the White House only made a stylistic change here, but these were not stylistic changes. These were content changes.

So, again, what role did the White House play not just in making, but in directing changes (inaudible)?

CARNEY: Well, thank you for that question. The way to look at this I think is to start from that week and understand that in the wake of the attacks in Benghazi, an effort was underway to find out what happened, who was responsible.

In response to a request from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to the CIA, the CIA began a process of developing points that could be used in public by members of Congress, by members of that committee.

And that process, as is always the case, again, led by the CIA, involved input from a variety of agencies with an interest in or a stake in the process.

And that would include, obviously, the State Department, since it was a State Department facility that was attacked and an ambassador who was killed, as well as three others. The NSF, the FBI, which is the lead investigation -- investigating authority, and other -- and other entities.

The CIA, in this case deputy director of the CIA, took that process and issued a set of talking points on that Saturday morning. And those talking points were disseminated. Again, this was all in response to a request from Congress.

And the only edit made by the White House or the State Department to those talking points generated by the CIA was a change from referring to the -- the facility that was attacked in Benghazi from consulate, because it was not a consulate, to diplomatic post.

I think I'd refer to is as just diplomatic facility. I think it may have been diplomatic post.

But the point being it was a matter of a nonsubstantive, factual correction.

But there was a process leading up to that that involved inputs from a lot of agencies, as is always the case in a situation like this, and is always appropriate.

And the -- the effort is always to -- in that circumstance, and with an ongoing investigation and a lot of information, some of it accurate, some it not, about what had happened and who was responsible, to provide information for members of Congress and others in the administration, for example, who might speak publicly about it, it was based on only what the intelligence community could say for sure it thought it knew.

And that is what was generated by the intelligence community, by the CIA.

QUESTION: This information that was information that the CIA obviously knows about prior attacks and warnings about those, does the president think that it was appropriate to keep that information away simply because of how Congress might use it?

CARNEY: Well, first of all, the CIA, you know, was the agency that made changes to the edits -- I mean to the talking points and then produced the talking points, first of all.

Second of all, I think the overriding concern of everyone involved in that circumstance is always to make sure that we're not giving to those who speak in public about these issues information that is -- cannot be confirmed, speculation about who was responsible, other things, like warnings that may or may not be relevant to what we ultimately learn about what happened and why.

All of that information, by the way, was and remains part of the investigation. It's information that's provided to Congress and to others looking into this matter last fall and throughout the winter and into this year.

And that investigation continues.

But on the substantive issues of what happened in Benghazi, and at that time what the intelligence community thought it knew, that was reflected in the talking points that were used, again, that weekend by Ambassador Rice and by others, including members of Congress.

And I think if you look at -- at the information that's been reported, you can see that evolution.

And it was -- the talking points were focused on what we knew and not speculation about what may or may not have been responsible or related.

I would also say that all of this information was provided months ago to members of Congress, a fact that we made clear to all of you at the time.

During the confirmation process for John Brennan, as director of the CIA, there was a request for more information including e-mails around the deliberating process involved in producing these talking points, and this administration took the rather extraordinary measure of providing those e-mails to members of the relevant committees as well as the leadership members and staff in Congress.

And that information was available, again, in late February to members of Congress, and through March. And once that information was reviewed, in the case of the Senate, Republicans, a number of whom went on record saying, "Well now I feel like I -- I know what I need to know," then allowed the process for the confirmation of John Brennan to go forward, and he was confirmed in early March.

QUESTION: Since you bring it up, why were those e-mails in a read only fashion? CARNEY: It is, I think, a standard procedure for administrations of both parties going back decades that internal deliberations are generally protected -- is generally protected information that is not something that is regularly shared with Congress, and then that's begin to allow for a deliberative process in the executive branch -- in this case -- to answer just these concerns that members of Congress had -- in particular, Republican members of Congress, that step was taken, and provided.

And they were -- they were able to review all of these e-mails, which they have, of course, now leaked to reporters, but they were able to review all of these e-mails for as long as they wanted, take extensive notes if they chose -- if they chose to. And, again, once that process was completed, the confirmation of John Brennan went forward.

A number of Republicans came forward and said that they felt like they had the information they needed about that aspect of the Benghazi incident, and it's only now for what I think is, again, reflective of ongoing attempts to politicize a tragedy that took four American lives, you know, we're now seeing it resurface together with, you know, sort of political assertions by Republicans that ignore the basic facts here.

There was an attack on our facility in Benghazi. The intelligence community provided the information that it felt comfortable providing for public dissemination to members of government, Congress and the administration.

As we learned more about what happened, we provided it. That's why everybody has received the information that it has throughout this process. From the -- one of the things I think is interesting about the points is that from the very beginning there was included in the points the -- the statement about demonstrations taking place outside of the building and the facility in Benghazi. That is what the assessment -- the consensus or collective assessment of the intelligence community was. At that -- from that there was spontaneous attacks launched against the facility.

And when we found out that that was not true, when the assessment changed, we made that clear. And that was going back, if you remember, when we had this discussion back in the fall, that was the point that Republicans were focusing on, and, yet, it is clear from what you see in these documents that, that was the assessment made by the intelligence community and it is also clear from every -- the evolution of what public officials said about what we knew, that as we got more concrete information and information that we felt confident about, we provided it to the press, to Congress and the public.

QUESTION: The substance of these e-mails would suggest -- or have very specific exchanges between State Department official and officials here at the White House (inaudible) in which the State Department official raises concerns about providing talking points that would include a mention of Al Qaida because of a concern that Congress would use that against the State Department (inaudible).

CARNEY: I think that's actually not -- I think you need to -- the State Department has said that the spokesman's office raised two primary concerns about the talking points. The points went further in assigning responsibility than preliminary assessments suggested and there was concern about preserving the integrity of the investigation. That concern was expressed in other quarters, not just at the State Department.

QUESTION: (inaudible) specifically concerned about giving members of Congress something to use against the State Department.

CARNEY: Well, again, this was a process where there was an effort underway, an interagency process to develop information that could be delivered by government officials, both congressional and administrative -- administration officials, about what we knew, and not going beyond what we knew.

So, the assertions...


QUESTION: The language of that e-mail is pretty clear and the response is pretty clear in terms of saying "we want to address Victoria Nuland's concern." No matter who ended up providing the talking points in the end, it certainly seems clear that there was an influence by the White House and the State Department on the CIA talking points.

CARNEY: But again, I think you're -- you're conflating a couple of things here. The White House, as I said, made one minor change to the talking points drafted by and produced by the CIA, and even prior to that made very few -- had very few inputs on it.

The other discussions that went on prior to this in an interagency process reflected the concerns of a variety of agencies who had a stake in this issue, both the FBI because it was investigating; the CIA, obviously, and other intelligence agencies; and the State Department because an ambassador had been killed and a diplomatic facility had been attacked.

And what I think the concern was is that these points not provide information that was speculative in terms of whether it was relevant to what happened. And the -- what could not be known at that time was the relevance of issues about warnings. You know, there's the discussion about, you know, the Republicans, again, in this ongoing effort that began hours after the attacks when Mitt Romney put out a press release to try to take political advantage out of these deaths, or out of the attack in Benghazi -- in a move that was maligned even by members of his own party.

And from that day forward, there has been this effort to politicize it. And if you look at the issue here, the efforts to politicize it were always about, you know, were we trying to play down the fact that there was an act of terror and an attack on the embassy. And the problem with -- has always been with that assertion is that it's completely hype, because the president himself in the Rose Garden said this was an act of terror. And he -- he talked about it within the context of September 11th, 2001. He talked -- and then, you know, we had other officials in the administration refer to, you know, this as a terrorist act. Susan Rice when she went out on the Sunday shows using the very talking points that we're discussing now talked about the possibility. We knew that -- we believed, based on the intelligence assessment, that extremists were involved, and there were suspicions about what affiliations those extremists might have. But they were not -- there was not hard, concrete evidence.

CARNEY: And so Ambassador Rice in those shows talked about the possibility that Al Qaida might be involved, or other Al Qaida affiliates might be involved, or non-Al Qaida Libyan extremists, which I think demonstrates that there was no effort to play that down. It was simply a reflection of, you know, we did not and the intelligence community did not, and others of us in the administration did not jump to conclusions about who was responsible before we had an investigation to find out the facts.

QUESTION: So was concern about how Congress would react a factor in what went into the pot (ph)?

CARNEY: Again...


CARNEY: ... if you look -- if you look at the development of the talking points, the answer to that is no, because the talking points reflect the intelligence community's assessment of what happened.

And all of the other issues about who was responsible, what specific organizations may have participated, what information was available or threats were known about the situation in Libya or in Benghazi, specifically, I mean all of that was part of an investigation and was, again, provided to Congress and -- and, as we learned more, to the public by the administration.


QUESTION: Jay, wouldn't you say this is a minor change -- a minor change in venue (ph), because the wording was changed in venue (ph). Why such a big deal today? With this deep background, deep, deep background, off-the-record briefing, it makes it seem like...

CARNEY: Well, let's be clear, it wasn't off the record. And -- and that was in a running (ph) report.

But the -- well, it is a big deal because Republicans have chosen in the latest iteration of their efforts to politicize this this to provide, you know, leak this information to reporters, information that we provided months ago to some Republican lawmakers from the relevant communities -- committees and Republican leadership as well as Democratic.

And, you know, there's an ongoing effort to make something political out of this. But the problem with that effort is that it's never been clear what it is they think they're accusing the administration of doing. Because when it comes to who was responsible, we were very open about what we knew -- what we thought we knew, what we did, for a fact, know, and the fact that this was an ongoing investigation and we would certainly learn more that would change our view of what had happened in Benghazi.

QUESTION: Understanding that, but it seems like there's been evil (ph) attitude about it. If there was such a minor issue, why not just tell the president, you did from the podium, just give it himself, instead of having this background briefing with a select few and not the whole (inaudible), if it's such a minor issue?

CARNEY: Well, again, I think I've talked -- I'm here, right now, to take your questions about this issue and -- and we have background briefings periodically and 14 news organizations were represented. And, you know, that's something that administrations do regularly, or both parties.

And -- and, as I said at the top, it's not a replacement for this briefing and that's why I'm here taking your questions.


QUESTION: Jay, how you build from a conversation that was apparently happening between various administration officials, various officials of this government on September 14th, and in those e-mails, in that e- mail exchange, there's a discussion about a group, Ansar al- Sharia.

And then after Victoria Nuland raises concerns on -- on the part of the State Department, that references to that group are then removed from the conversation and don't make their way into the talking points?


QUESTION: That is not a stylistic edit. That is not a single adjustment, as you said back in November. That is a major dramatic change (inaudible) information.

CARNEY: No, I appreciate the question and the opportunity again to make clear that the CIA produced talking points that was a result of an interagency process on the morning of -- that Saturday morning. And then, and to that...

QUESTION: But when you say...


CARNEY: Let me just finish this and then I'll -- and then I'll, you can follow it.


CARNEY: Then they produced -- and from that we...

QUESTION: ... and from pressure from other parties that were involved...


CARNEY: I think I -- I was pointing to the numerous statements by the top officials at the CIA, making clear that they wrote the talking points, that they believed that those talking points represented what they knew to the best of their knowledge at that time and did not include things that they could not be concretely sure of.

Ansar al-Sharia is a -- is a good example. If you remember, in the wake of these attacks, there was an initial claim of responsibility by that group, and a lot of people rushed out and said, "Well, this is the group that's responsible."

Then that group withdrew the claim of responsibility. Now neither is dispositive. That is why it needs to be investigated. So what we knew was not concretely for sure that group was responsible at that time, but we knew extremists were participants, and that is what the talking points said.

And again, the idea...

QUESTION: (inaudible).

CARNEY: Jim, if I could -- the idea that saying extremists is somehow hiding the ball, I mean, does anybody in this room not understand that extremists in Libya means the kind of people who would attack a U.S. diplomatic facility?

QUESTION: But if you go back to what Susan Rice was talking about during those talk shows, there -- there -- she may have left open the possibility of extremists, but this is an all together different thing.

CARNEY: Well actually, Jim, as I just said (inaudible) Sunday shows, she talked about Ansar Al Sharia, she talked about the fact that they may be responsible. She talked about the fact that Al Qaida could be responsible or other Al Qaida linked affiliates.

So what she did not say is that we know for a fact that they're responsible. That's why in the -- the basic talking points, again, all about talking points, not about the facts of the investigation or all of the information that has been provided to Congress in countless hearings, countless pieces of information -- documents that have been provided -- 20,000, 25,000 pages of documents -- this was just the talking points that were the baseline for what public officials, beginning with members of Congress, that's what they were developed for, but also provided to Ambassador Rice, and then she spoke beyond that based on, you know, what could be true as opposed to what we knew to be true.

QUESTION: Just a follow up, once and for all. You are comfortable, still comfortable.

CARNEY: You promise?

Once and for all?

QUESTION: Well, maybe not.


QUESTION: But you are comfortable with the way you characterized this back in November, this was a single adjustment, yes, it may have been the White House that made a single adjustment, and perhaps it was the CIA drafted these talking points, but that is sort of glossing over the fact you had all of these other parties involved. These are not stylistized edits, Jay. This is very much a content-driven change.

CARNEY: Well let me -- let me -- let me just make clear.

I do stand by that when we were talking about the talking points produced by the CIA and provided to members of Congress on the intelligence committee in the House who asked for it and others as well as folks in the administration that, that document -- there was a suggested edit that was accepted by the White House. And that was a change from -- you know, to make it factual.

The calling of the building in Benghazi a consulate because it was not a consulate, to diplomatic post or facility. I can't remember which. But prior to that, you know, there had been a lot of discussion and iteration -- iterative process where this was -- the various issues were discussed about what could be said publicly, what we know and what we're just speculating about. And that process could involve a whole bunch of agencies.

It is also the case it did not involve -- the White House involvement was very limited and non-substantive. But the issues you mention had to do with limiting the talking points to what we knew as opposed to speculation about what may or may not, in the end, be relative to what happened in Benghazi.

QUESTION: Jay, you told us the only changes that were made were stylistic. Is it a stylistic change to take out all references to previous terror threats in Benghazi?

CARNEY: Well I appreciate the question, again, and I think that what I was referring to was the talking points that the CIA drafted and sent around to which one change was made, and -- and I accept that 'stylistic' may not precisely describe a change of one word to another, but semantics...

QUESTION: Jay, it was not the change of just one word (inaudible) extensive changes after they were written by the CIA. These were concerns that were raised by the State Department the White House directed the interagency process to -- to -- to use in making these talking points.

CARNEY: Well, I think we're getting...

QUESTION: The CIA's original version included references to Al Qaida, references to Al -- Ansar al-Islam (ph). It -- the CIA -- the original CIA version included extensive discussion of the previous threats of terrorist attacks in Benghazi.

Those were taken out after the CIA wrote its initial draft.

CARNEY: And then the CIA wrote another draft, at the...

QUESTION: Based on input from the State Department.

CARNEY: Well, but here's -- here's what I've been saying, John...

QUESTION: Yeah, I know.

CARNEY: No, John, what I'm saying is -- and I've answered this question several times now, but I'm happy to answer it again, if you'd let me answer it.

And that is that there was an interagency process, which is always the case, because a lot of agencies have stakes -- have a stake in a matter like this -- the investigative agency, the CIA, the intelligence agencies, the -- the State Department in this case, the national security staff.

And everybody provided information and comment. And then on Saturday morning, the CIA said, you know, we're going to take a crack at drafting these points based on what we know.

And the things that you're talking about, again, don't -- don't go to the fundamental issue here, which was what would -- could be said concretely about what we -- what the intelligence community knew to be true? Not -- not that some people thought it was Ansar al- Sharia (ph), some people thought it was other Al Qaida affiliates or other Libyan extremists.

So we knew it was extremists. So we knew that -- we believed we knew that extremists had participated.

There was also the belief by -- from the beginning by the intelligence community in these points, that there had been protests out of which the attack occurred, protests in response to the demonstrations that were in Cairo at our embassy that were in response to that video.

That turned out not to be the case, but it -- but it -- it demonstrates the fluidity of the information, the fact that it was hard, and continues to be hard in an investigation to know concretely, especially in the first days afterwards, what happened.

And that's why we were so careful to say, here's what we know or we believe we know. And, every time we said that, we fully expect this information to change as we learn more, and it did. And we -- we provided it.

And, again, the whole -- the whole effort here by Republicans to find some hidden mystery comes to nothing because the president called it an act of terror. The ambassador to the United Nations, that very Sunday that has caused Republicans so much concern talked about the possible involvement of Al Qaida and hence Ansar al-Sharia (ph). The -- you know -- all of this is a distraction from the key issues. A diplomatic post was attacked by individuals in Libya, in Benghazi. Four Americans lost their lives. From the beginning the president has committed all the resources of this administration, of this government, to finding out who was responsible and to bringing them to justice.

He also very clearly, together with the secretary of state, said we need to make sure that we find out what went wrong, what problems there were with security that allowed this to happen, to hold people accountable and to make the necessary changes so that it doesn't happen again.

And that process happened. It was stood up by the secretary of state. It was a process led by two of the most experienced and widely regarded figures in --

BALDWIN: You have been listening to Jay Carney answer myriad questions when it comes to what happened in Benghazi, Libya, September 11th of last year.

Jake Tapper will be all over it this next hour.

That does it for me here in a very rainy Cleveland, Ohio. Thanks for being with me.