A conciliatory meeting between U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and Republican critics in the Senate over her comments after the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, did not dampen the furor.
WASHINGTON — What was supposed to be a make-nice meeting Tuesday seemed only to make things worse between the White House and Senate Republicans over U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s comments after the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, Libya.
Rice faced some of her harshest Republican critics, hoping to allay their concerns over whether she misled Americans about what precipitated the assault.
President Obama has defended Rice and is said to be considering her for his next secretary of state, but the meeting apparently only deepened GOP skepticism.
“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got, and some that we didn’t get,” Sen. John McCain of Arizona said.
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Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said, “Bottom line: I’m more concerned than I was before” — a sentiment echoed by Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.
Rice and Acting CIA Director Michael Morell met privately with the three members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who have been leading the GOP charge since the attack that led to the deaths of four Americans, including envoy J. Christopher Stevens.
Late Tuesday, the three senators issued a statement: “We are disturbed by the Administration’s continued inability to answer even the most basic questions about the Benghazi attack and the Administration’s response.
Beyond Ambassador Rice’s misstatements, we continue to have questions about what happened in Benghazi before, during, and after the attack on our consulate — as well as the President’s statements regarding the attack.”
For several weeks, Rice has defended herself against allegations that she knowingly misled the public on Sunday talk shows five days after the assault. She said repeatedly then that a spontaneous demonstration led to the violence, a claim later debunked.
Some Republicans have suggested the administration purposely mischaracterized the event to avoid political fallout in the closing stages of the election, but weeks later, the issue remains volatile.
In a statement after the meeting Tuesday, Rice said that she and Morell “explained that the talking points provided by the intelligence community, and the initial assessment upon which they were based, were incorrect in a key respect: there was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi.”
Rice added that “neither I nor anyone else in the Administration intended to mislead the American people at any stage in this process.”
The senators’ Tuesday night statement also said Morell corrected information he had given them earlier in the day about who had removed terror plot references from the talking points.
“The CIA now says that it deleted the al-Qaida references, not the FBI. They were unable to give a reason as to why,” the statement said.
A U.S. intelligence official confirmed that the CIA made the changes related to al-Qaida in the talking points and that the agency did correct some of Morell’s statement to the senators.
Graham said that if the administration was confused about the events in Benghazi, it should have been silent.
“The American people got bad information on 16 September, they got bad information from President Obama days after, and the question is, should they have been giving the information at all? If you can do nothing but give bad information, isn’t it better to give no information at all,” he said.
Graham and Ayotte said that knowing what they know now, they would place a hold on Rice’s nomination if Obama selected her, as well as on Morell, if he is tapped to succeed former CIA Director David Petraeus, as has been reported.
“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,” Graham said.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is the other leading candidate for secretary of state.
Several senators, including McCain, said they would prefer Kerry and predicted he would sail through a confirmation hearing.