(WASHINGTON) — President Obama dismissed criticism over the White House’s handling of the attack in Benghazi, calling the focus on the issue a “sideshow,” and said any suggestion that the administration is engaging in a cover-up “defies logic.”
“The whole issue of this, of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow,” the president said during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron at the White House.
The president’s dismissal came days after ABC News unearthed drafts of talking points regarding the attack in Benghazi last year, which showed the White House played a heavier role in the editing process, which deleted any reference to the deadly attacks being terror-related. Those heavily-edited talking points were then repeated to the American public, both by staffers and by President Obama himself, blaming an obscure anti-Islamic video for the deadly assault, which left four Americans dead.
The president claimed the e-mails on the Benghazi attack were shown to members of a congressional committee several months ago, but no one raised concerns over the contents of the exchanges at the time.
“The emails that you allude to were provided by us to congressional committees. They reviewed them several months ago, concluded that in fact there was nothing afoul in terms of the process that we had used. And suddenly, three days ago, this gets spun up as if there’s something new to the story,” he said. “There’s no ‘there’ there.”
On Friday, ABC News exclusively obtained 12 different versions of the Benghazi talking points that showed they were extensively edited from the initial draft stage through the final version distributed to Congress and U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, who used them to inform her comments on Sunday shows following the attacks. Summaries of White House and State Department e-mails detailed specific input given by State Department officials throughout the editing process.
Last week, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that the White House was not heavily involved in the development of the talking points, saying that the only changes made were “stylistic.”
President Obama said that people have continually tried to politicize the tragedy while the administration remains committed to preventing a similar attack in the future.
“We turn things like this into a political circus. What happened was tragic. It was carried out by extremists inside of Libya. We are out there trying to hunt down the folks who carried this out, and we’re trying to make sure that we fix the system so that it doesn’t happen again,” he said. “I’ve been very clear about taking responsibility for the fact that we were not able to prevent their deaths. And we are doing everything we can to make sure we prevent it, in part because there are still diplomats around the world who are in very dangerous, difficult situations. And we don’t have time to be playing these kinds of political games here in Washington. We should be focused on what are we doing to protect them.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Vanessa Yurkevich, CNN
Angela Dewan, CNN
Andreas Preuss and Joe Sutton, CNN
Ray Sanchez, CNN