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Obama: Renewed Benghazi attack controversy 'sideshow'

  |   May 13, 2013 at 1:48 PM
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WASHINGTON, May 13 (UPI) -- The controversy over his administration's initial response to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, is a "sideshow," President Obama said Monday.

"We've now seen this argument that's been made by some folks ... for months now," Obama said during a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron Monday at the White House.

Congressional Republicans last week renewed questions about the administration's handling of talking points in the days immediately after the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, in which Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other diplomatic staffers were killed, and 10 others were injured.

The emails were provided by the White House to congressional committees which concluded "months ago there was nothing afoul," Obama said.

"Suddenly, three days ago this is spun up as if there something new to the story," he said. "There's no there there."

"The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow," Obama said. "What we had been very clear about throughout was that immediately after this event happened, we were not clear who exactly had carried it out, how it had been -- how it had occurred, what the motivations were."

The talking points, discussed by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, said the consulate was attacked because of a U.S.-produced video that demeaned the Prophet Muhammad.

Obama said Republicans were playing politics and have used the issue for fundraising.

"The whole thing defies logic, and the fact that this thing keeps getting churned out quite frankly has a lot to do with political motivations," Obama said.

"We don't have times to playing political games in Washington. We dishonor them [diplomats] when we turn things like this into a political circus."

Meanwhile, U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said more whistle-blowers have stepped forward to talk about the Benghazi attack.

At the same time, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served three Republican presidents before staying on under Obama, said he supported the Pentagon's lack of a military response to the Sept. 11, 2012, terror attack on the U.S. compound.

"I do think we're going to see more whistle-blowers," Rogers, R-Mich., told "Fox News Sunday." "I know certainly my committee has been contacted. I think other committees have as well."

The additional potential witnesses were emboldened by testimony Wednesday by current and former State Department officials, Rogers said.

Those employees said they knew almost immediately the Benghazi attack was terrorism, even as the administration was slow to describe it as organized, instead initially blaming it on a spontaneous mob.

"I will tell you we have had people come forward because of the testimony and say we would also like to talk," Rogers said, adding the potential witnesses said, "We feel a little bit intimidated by this, but we have information we think is valuable."

Rogers alleged the administration "changed the narrative" on Benghazi to avoid an anti-U.S. terrorist attack during the Obama presidency.

On Friday, White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted the White House changed only a word or two to make clear the diplomatic post in Benghazi was not referred to as a consulate.

"White House involvement in the talking points was very limited and non-substantive," he said.

He said any other changes sought to limit talking points about the attacks "to what we knew, as opposed to speculation about what may or may not have been in the end relevant to what happened in Benghazi."

Rogers told "Fox News Sunday" there was no truth to allegations Republicans were playing politics with their Benghazi investigation.

Gates rebutted suggestions the Pentagon could have scrambled jets or special forces during the attack, calling that a "cartoonish impression of military capabilities."

"Frankly, had I been in the job at the time, I think my decisions would have been just as theirs were," Gates told the CBS News program "Face the Nation."

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