On Sept. 12, President Barack Obama described the attack on the U.S. consulate mission in Benghazi as a terrorist attack. The next day, the Libyan ambassador apologized to the U.S. secretary of state for the "terrorist attack."
By Sept. 15, Obama had adopted more ambiguous language and by Sept. 16, Susan Rice, Obama's possible nominee to be the next Secretary of State was on television asserting that the attacks were caused by an angry mob inflamed by an online video.
Everyone now agrees that the White House's account devolved from accurate to downright wrong. No one has been identified as the source of the misinformation.
Republicans say that the White House was seeking to mislead the public in the days before the presidential election. The terrorist attack narrative, as true as it was, did not jibe with the Obama campaign's spin that al-Quaida's strength has been waning.
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 White House's version of events had changed when it was clear early on that the military-style assault wasn't a simple protest gone awry.
Feinstein said Congress has asked the administration to provide a detailed explanation.
The inquiry comes on the heels of closed testimony to the committees last week by former CIA Director David Petraeus. Petraeus reportedly 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.
The Associated Press quoted a "senior U.S. official" who said that the al-Quaida reference was deleted because the information came from classified sources and the links were tenuous. The administration also did not want to prejudice a criminal investigation in its early stages. That explanation might hold water if the president had not already publicly described the incident as a terrorist attack. Considered in proper context, it is laughable to suggest that the administration deleted the information because officials were not sure of the credibility of the account.
The Obama Administration has an obligation to transparently explain who altered the talking points and how and why those changes were approved. There might be a good reason for the alterations. But there can be no good reason for keeping secrets about how an accurate description of the attack became undermined by balderdash.