WASHINGTON -- Emails the White House released Wednesday revealed a fierce internal jostling over the government's official talking points in the aftermath of last September's attacks in Benghazi, Libya, not only between the State Department and the CIA, but at the highest levels of the CIA.
The 100 pages of emails showed disagreement between then-CIA director David H. Petraeus and his deputy, Michael J. Morrell, over how much to disclose in the talking points, which were used by Susan E. Rice, the United Nations ambassador, in television appearances days after the attacks.
Mr. Morrell, administration officials said, deleted in the talking points' draft version a reference to CIA warnings of extremist threats in Libya, which State Department officials had objected to because they feared that it would reflect poorly on them.
Mr. Morrell, officials said, acted on his own, and not in response to State Department pressure. But when the final talking points draft was sent to Mr. Petraeus, he dismissed them, saying, "Frankly, I'd just as soon not use this," adding that the heavily scrubbed account would not satisfy the House Democrat who had requested it.
"This is certainly not what vice chairman Ruppersberger was hoping to get," Mr. Petraeus wrote, referring to Maryland Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which had asked Mr. Petraeus for talking points to use with reporters in discussing the Benghazi attack.
The White House released the emails to reporters Wednesday after Republicans had seized upon correspondence snippets that became public Friday to suggest that President Barack Obama's national security staff had been complicit in trying to alter the talking points for political reasons.
While the emails portrayed White House officials as being sensitive to the State Department concerns, they suggest that Mr. Obama's aides mostly mediated a bureaucratic tug of war between the State Department and the CIA over how much to disclose -- all under heavy time constraints because of the demands from Capitol Hill. The emails revealed no new details about the administration's evolving account of the Sept. 11 attack, which killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
"In recent days, these emails have been selectively and inaccurately read out to the media," said White House spokesman Eric Schultz. By releasing them, he said, the White House had shown that the drafting process was "focused on providing the facts as we knew them, based on the best information available at the time and protecting an ongoing investigation."
Still, the final version of the talking points is stripped of material -- including a reference to Libya being awash with weapons and fighters that made it a dangerous environment -- which critics say would have raised questions about the State Department's security posture.
Republicans welcomed the emails' release, saying they confirmed that the administration had airbrushed its attack account during an election campaign. They also said the emails belied the White House's insistence that it had only changed one word in the talking points.
"The seemingly political nature of the State Department's concerns raises questions about the motivations behind these changes, and who at the State Department was seeking them," said Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio.
In releasing the emails, the White House was hoping to show that intelligence officials, not political advisers, drove the debate over the talking points. It drew attention to a draft of the talking points -- the only document the White House provided that was not part of an email chain -- in which Mr. Morrell, in his own writing, crosses out five lines that refer to CIA warnings about the threat of attacks by al-Qaida-linked extremists in Benghazi and eastern Libya.
But there is no other evidence in the emails that Mr. Morrell himself objected to inclusion of this material. In an email to Mr. Petraeus accompanying the talking points' final version, Mr. Morrell refers to the State Department's deep concerns about the references.