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updated: 5/4/2014 8:58 PM

2012 Benghazi attacks back at center of debate

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  • This Sept. 13, 2012, file photo shows a man walking in the rubble of the damaged U.S. consulate, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens on the night of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya.

      This Sept. 13, 2012, file photo shows a man walking in the rubble of the damaged U.S. consulate, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens on the night of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya.

Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- Democrats and Republicans sparred Sunday over recently released documents showing the White House helped craft talking points for former Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice after the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

House Republicans last week responded to the development by saying they would form a select committee to investigate the Obama administration's response to the incident, which occurred less than two months before the last presidential election.

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Democrats played down the significance of the documents, saying any calls for further investigations into the Benghazi matter are politically motivated.

Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat described the GOP effort during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday" as a "colossal waste of time," noting that four bipartisan probes have already taken place. He said Democratic leaders should not appoint anyone to the panel.

"I don't think it makes sense for Democrats to participate," Schiff said. "I think it's just a tremendous red herring and a waste of taxpayer money."

Former Senator Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, backed the decision by Republican leaders, saying on ABC's "This Week" that they have an obligation to investigate the Benghazi matter.

"There's a firestorm out there across America among Republicans who don't think we've taken this issue on," he said, adding that House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has "no choice but to move forward on this."

Rice appeared on several talk shows after the incident attributing the assault to an anti-Muslim video that sparked spontaneous protests -- the administration later retracted that theory.

An email released under court order last week shows that Ben Rhodes, one of Obama's top advisers, had outlined talking points for Rice to discuss protests that erupted across the Middle East at the time. Rhodes called on her to "underscore that these protests are rooted in an internet video, and not a broader failure of policy."

Republicans claim that the message proves the administration intentionally misled the public to save face after the attack. But White House press secretary Jay Carney said last week that the memo related to the protests and the "general dynamic in the . . . Muslim world at the time" rather than the Benghazi assault.

Republicans have questioned why the State Department did not give the Rhodes memo to investigators after the House oversight committee's chairman, Darrell Issa, a California Republican, subpoenaed all documents related to the Benghazi response.

"If it were up to the White House, you would have never known about this email," Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation."

Carney said last week that the reason the administration did not initially hand over the document was because it did not relate to the attack.

Former White House senior adviser David Plouffe said on "This Week" that another Republican-led investigation into the Benghazi incident is unnecessary.

"What ought to be done here is not another bogus committee but real work to protect our agencies," he said, adding that the GOP may hurt itself in the upcoming midterm elections by focusing on an alleged conspiracy instead of a positive agenda.

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