WASHINGTON - A defiant President Obama dismissed as a "sideshow" the controversy over his administration's handling of last year's armed assault in Benghazi, Libya, accusing critics of trying to make political hay from the deaths of four Americans.

"We dishonor them when we turn things like this into a political circus," Obama told reporters Monday.

Obama's angry remarks were his first since House hearings last week on the September 2012 attack on the U.S. facility in Benghazi, and his first public reaction to fresh evidence indicating the White House weighed political calculations as it released information in the days that followed.

The evidence - a newly released e-mail chain - has reprised the debate that erupted in the heat of last fall's presidential race, although Democrats say that this time, Republicans have a new target. Having failed to sink Obama's re-election bid, they argue, the new probe is aimed at tanking the next possible Democratic nominee - former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"Suddenly, three days ago, this gets spun up as if there's something new to the story. There's no 'there' there," Obama said at a brief new conference following an Oval Office meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Republicans have denied targeting Clinton and say they are pursuing complaints from whistleblowers who claim an independent review board charged with investigating the attack inappropriately spared top State Department officials, including Clinton, from scrutiny.

The e-mails disclosed last week showed the White House was not forthcoming about its role in drafting so-called talking points were intended for administration officials and lawmakers after the Benghazi attack. White House spokesman Jay Carney has repeatedly said the White House made only stylistic changes to the talking points.

But an e-mail first disclosed Friday shows that a State Department official sought changes to CIA-drafted talking points out of concern that the State Department would be blamed for missing early warnings of possible terrorist action. A White House official appeared to grant the request.

Obama argued in the press briefing Monday that his administration turned the e-mails over to congressional committees "several months ago" and that lawmakers "concluded that in fact there was nothing afoul in terms of the process that we had used."

But a report written by five Republican-led House committees and released in April concluded that the White House altered the talking points to protect the State Department.