What Petraeus decided to do with that request is the pivotal moment in the controversy over the administration’s Benghazi talking points. It was from his initial input that all else flowed, resulting in 48 hours of intensive editing that congressional Republicans cite as evidence of a White House coverup.
A close reading of recently released government e-mails that were sent during the editing process, and interviews with senior officials from several government agencies.
Revealing Petraeus’s early role and ambitions in going well beyond the committee’s request, apparently to produce a set of talking points favorable to his image and his agency, the information Petraeus ordered up when he returned to his Langley office that morning included far more than the minimalist version that Ruppersberger had requested.
It included early classified intelligence assessments of who might be responsible for the attack and an account of prior CIA warnings — information that put Petraeus at odds with the State Department, the FBI and senior officials within his own agency.
It was not until a month later that it became clear that the CIA, rather than the State Department, maintained the most significant presence in Benghazi.
The e-mail listed two items “For DCIA,” a reference to Petraeus. That request included “Cable(s) to [redacted] warning of protests linked to the film and response” and “cable(s) to stations on 9/11 security.”
Republicans would later contend that the CIA had wanted to tell the truth about what unfolded that day but that the State Department, with White House support, removed the information for political reasons amid a heated presidential campaign.
Stephen W. Preston, the CIA’s general counsel, was among those most concerned with the first draft.
But the e-mails reveal that the initial talking points also generated tension and confusion within the CIA, as officials sought to understand how Petraeus’s requests squared with what the committee had asked for.