May 07, 2014, 05:33 pm
Ex-CIA official: Gowdy 'has already made up his mind' on Benghazi attack
By Justin Sink
A former top CIA official on Wednesday accused Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), recently tapped to lead a House select committee on the Benghazi terror attack, of having "a number of his facts wrong" on the case.
"I was hopeful that the House investigative committee would come to its task with an open mind and with a desire to find the truth, but it appears that at least Mr. Gowdy has already made up his mind on certain points," former acting CIA Deputy Michael Morell told CNN.
During an interview with the same network earlier Wednesday, Gowdy said he wanted Morrell to explain why he had made certain edits to a set of talking points used by then-U.N. ambassador Susan Rice to explain the 2012 attack, which left four Americans dead. In her interviews, Rice said preliminary intelligence indicated that the violence grew spontaneously from protests over an anti-Islam YouTube video; the administration later acknowledged the attack was preplanned.
Gowdy said Morell had not explained why he edited those talking points to change the word "terrorist" to "extremist" or the word "attack" to "demonstration."
"Every single change that Mike Morell made was calculated to cast the administration in a more favorable light," Gowdy said.
But Morrell said he never made those changes and pointed to his recent testimony to the House Intelligence Committee to provide further information about the edits.
In the April 2 testimony, Morell said that, within the CIA, "extremist" and "terrorist" were viewed as synonyms.
"One of the things that we've learned on this process is that the words we use internal to the CIA aren't always the words that people outside of the CIA understand," he said. "So, to us, the word extremist was a synonym for the word terrorist. Not only for the analyst, but also our operators. So, when we said the word extremist we meant terrorist."
The former CIA official also testified that an analyst within the agency independently suggested changing the reference from "attacks" to "demonstrations."
"One of the reasons they say they made the changes is because it didn't make a lot of sense to say that attacks evolved into assault," Morrell said.
Democrats have targeted comments made by Gowdy in a bid to question the credibility of the Benghazi panel, which they charge is a political ploy intended to rally the conservative base and hurt both the White House and the election prospects of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Earlier Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) staff highlighted Gowdy's clams to have evidence of a "systematic, intentional decision to withhold certain documents from Congress" regarding Benghazi.
"Gowdy claimed to have evidence of a Benghazi cover-up just days before the evidence somehow disappeared — a tactic eerily reminiscent of Congressman Issa’s behavior on the House Oversight Committee," said Pelosi spokesman Jorge Aguilar.
Democrats have also objected to Gowdy's assertion on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Wednesday that nothing "else was being discussed after September 11, 2012 other than Benghazi," such as demonstrations elsewhere.
Republicans have argued that the special panel was necessary after the revelation of an email from White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, who recommended then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”
But the White House has maintained that Rhodes was merely prepping Rice to discuss protests across the Middle East — not the Benghazi incident specifically — and noted that many television networks teased their interviews with Rice by saying she would comment on the regional unrest.
In his interview with MSNBC, Gowdy pushed back on Democratic charges that his investigation would be partisan, saying he prided himself on impartiality.
"I do want credibility, and I encourage you to watch the process. I think the process matters every bit as much as the result," Gowdy said.
"The only thing I can tell you is, you go back and look at my 16-year career as a prosecutor, and you're going to find defense attorneys that say, look, I thought my client was innocent, but the guy gave me a fair trial," he added.