WASHINGTON – U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice told lawmakers Tuesday that her initial explanation of the deadly Sept. 11 raid in Libya was wrong, but her concession failed to mollify three Republican senators who signaled they would try to block her possible nomination to be secretary of state.
In a closed-door meeting that Rice requested, the ambassador answered questions from Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte about her much-maligned explanations about the cause of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. She was joined by acting CIA Director Michael Morell.
“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 said in a statement after the meeting. “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.”
Rice’s unusual visit to Capitol Hill – typically only nominees meet privately with lawmakers – reflects the Obama administration’s campaign for the current front-runner to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got and some that we didn’t get concerning evidence that was leading up to the attack on the consulate,” McCain told reporters after emerging from the session that he described as candid.
Said Graham: “Bottom line I’m more disturbed now than I was before that 16 September explanation.” He said in a later interview that Rice went “far beyond the flawed talking points” and should be held accountable.
The White House remained defiant in its support for Rice, arguing that she was relying on an assessment from the intelligence community and had no responsibility in compiling the information on the cause of the attack. It dismissed what it characterized as a fixation on her national television appearances five days after the raid.
“The focus on, some might say, obsession on comments made on Sunday shows seems to me and to many, to be misplaced,” spokesman Jay Carney said at a White House briefing.