Rice fails to win over Republican senators on Benghazi response
Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, conceded yesterday that she incorrectly described the attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, in September as following a spontaneous protest, rather than being a terrorist attack. But she said she based her statement on the intelligence available and did not intend to mislead the US public.
Ms Rice’s acknowledgment, in a meeting on Capitol Hill with three Republican senators who had criticised her earlier statements in a series of television interviews after the attack, seemed to do little to quell their anger.
The senators emerged from the meeting voicing even deeper reservations about Ms Rice’s role in the messy aftermath of the Benghazi attack, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans. “We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got, and some that we didn’t get,” Senator John McCain of Arizona said. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said: “Bottom line: I’m more concerned than I was before” – a sentiment echoed by Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.
Their statements – coming after Ms Rice’s conciliatory remarks during a meeting designed to mend fences and smooth the way for her nomination as secretary of state if President Barack Obama decides on her as Hillary Clinton’s successor – attested to the bitterness of the feud between the White House and Republicans over Benghazi.
Mr Graham and Ms Ayotte said that knowing what they know now, they would place a hold on Ms Rice’s nomination if Mr Obama selected her.
“I wouldn’t vote for anybody being nominated out of the Benghazi debacle until I had answers about what happened that I don’t have today,” Mr Graham said.
Republicans have seized on Ms Rice’s initial account – that the Benghazi attack stemmed from a spontaneous protest gone awry, rather than being a premeditated terrorist attack – as a politically motivated cover-up by the administration.
The White House has defended Ms Rice, saying she was articulating talking points produced by intelligence agencies.
Ms Rice is viewed as Mr Obama’s favoured candidate to replace Mrs Clinton. The US ambassador had asked for the meeting and was accompanied by the acting CIA director, Michael Morrell, amid signs Mr McCain and Mr Graham were softening their opposition to her potential nomination. “She deserves the ability and the opportunity to explain herself,” Mr McCain said on Sunday. After the meeting, Ms Rice said she and Mr Morrell explained the “talking points” provided by the intelligence community.
“While we certainly wish that we had had perfect information just days after the terrorist attack, as is often the case, the intelligence assessment has evolved,” she said.
“We stressed that neither I, nor anyone else in the administration, intended to mislead the American people at any stage in this process, and the administration updated Congress and the American people as our assessments evolved.” – (New York Times)