Senior administration officials, including Jake Sullivan, deputy chief of staff at the State Department, and Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser, met that Saturday morning to discuss the talking points.
Following the meeting, Deputy CIA Director Mike Morell produced a final set of talking points that deleted mentions of al-Qaida, the experience of fighters in Libya and Islamic extremists.
The next day, Sunday, Sept. 16, Rice appeared on the talk shows and said evidence gathered so far showed no indication of a premeditated or coordinated strike. She said the attack in Benghazi, powered by mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, appeared to be a copycat of demonstrations that had erupted hours earlier outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, spurred by accounts of a YouTube film attributed to a California man mocking the Prophet Muhammad.
‘‘In fact this was not a preplanned, premeditated attack. That what happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video,’’ she said. ‘‘People gathered outside the embassy, and then it grew very violent. Those with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons, which unfortunately are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya, and that then spun out of control.’’
Administration officials said Friday they deleted the references to terror groups because it was then unclear — and still is — who was responsible for the attack.
Rice’s depiction of the chain of events contrasted with one offered by Libya’s Interim President Mohammed el-Megarif, who said at the time there was no doubt the perpetrators had predetermined the date of the attack.
‘‘It was planned, definitely. It was planned by foreigners, by people who entered the country a few months ago,’’ el-Megarif said. ‘‘And they were planning this criminal act since their arrival.’’
At a House hearing on Wednesday, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., read from an email he said was written by Beth Jones, the State Department official responsible for Near Eastern affairs, the day after the Benghazi attack that suggested the State Department had at least some belief that the attack was the work of terrorists.
According to Gowdy’s reading, the Sept. 12, 2012, email by Jones said: ‘‘I spoke to the Libyan ambassador and emphasized importance of Libyan leaders continuing to make strong statements. ... When he said his government suspected that former Gadhafi regime elements carried out the attacks, I told him that the group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al-Sharia, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists.’’
The Republican lawmaker said the email by Jones was sent to a number of State Department officials, including Nuland.
Yet Rice still went on the Sunday talk shows several days later to ‘‘perpetuate a demonstrably false narrative,’’ Gowdy said.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday that the department reviewed the talking points on Friday, Sept. 14, and raised two primary concerns.
‘‘First, that the points went further in assigning responsibility than preliminary assessments suggested and there was concern about preserving the integrity of the investigation. Second, that the points were inconsistent with the public language the administration had used to date — meaning members of Congress would be providing more guidance to the public than the administration.’’
An official familiar with the emails said former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was unaware of Nuland’s concerns about the talking points. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The White House has long maintained that it played a minimal role in crafting the talking points, pinning that process on intelligence agencies. The White House also said it made just one ‘‘stylistic’’ change to the talking points, which was to change the reference to the Benghazi compound from a ‘‘consulate’’ to a ‘‘diplomatic mission.’’
Associated Press writers Richard Lardner and Tom Raum contributed.