By Michael Catalini
Updated: May 11, 2013 | 5:08 a.m.
May 10, 2013 | 8:15 a.m.

Longtime allies of Hillary Clinton are coming to her defense amid new reports suggesting the State Department, under her stewardship, altered talking points about the attacks in Benghazi to remove references to terrorism and al Qaida.

Democratic strategists and former Clinton aides interviewed about whether the testimony this week from three State Department officials could prove politically damaging blamed right-wing groups for stirring up controversy, even as new information came out suggesting political motivation behind downplaying the terrorist links to the attack. Some of the defenses sounded reminiscent of Clinton’s own famed allegations of a “right-wing conspiracy” in the late-1990s after reports her husband had an affair with Monica Lewinsky.

“It will probably help some right-wing organization build their direct mail list,” said former Clinton campaign adviser Ann Lewis. “Do I think it will change what people think about Hillary Clinton? I think at this point the American public has good perspective on who Hillary Clinton is.”

Asked what political advice he would give Clinton if she were running in 2016, longtime Clinton strategist Paul Begala said her testimony to Congress in January serves her well.

“I think the way she has dealt with this has been admirable. And Republicans are treading awfully close to the tin foil hat,” said Begala.

The stakes for Clinton are high, if she decides to run for president. Hours of testimony this week gave voice to political concerns raised by Republicans, who argue the full story has not been told about the administration’s response to Benghazi. When Clinton testified in January, a key line of GOP questioning centered on why U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice linked the storming of the consulate with protests elsewhere in the Middle East, when there was evidence that wasn’t the case — a point amplified by former Libyan deputy chief of mission Greg Hicks’ testimony this week. Today, ABC News reports that those talking points underwent at least 12 revisions with input from the State Department.

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