UN Ambassador Susan Rice responded for the first time to the charges over her role in a Benghazi cover-up at a press conference today called to address the crisis in the Middle East.
When asked if the peace process would be a priority for her if appointed to be the next secretary of State, Rice said the two-state solution would be a “very high priority” in President Obama’s second term.
“And I’m confident that whoever President Obama selects to be his next secretary of State will pursue that objective with vigor,” she said.
Rice was then asked about her view of the Benghazi controversy and Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) comments about the scandal bearing on her fitness for Hillary Clinton’s job.
“Let me begin with the obvious. As a senior US diplomat, I agreed to a White House request to appear on the Sunday shows to talk about the full range of national security issues of the day, which at that time were primarily and particularly the protests that were enveloping and threatening many diplomatic facilities—American diplomatic facilities—around the world and Iran’s nuclear program. The attack on Benghazi—on our facilities in Benghazi—was obviously a significant piece of this,” she said.
“When discussing the attacks against our facilities in Benghazi, I relied solely and squarely on the information provided to me by the intelligence community. I made clear that the information was preliminary and that our investigations would give us the definitive answers. Everyone, particularly the intelligence community, has worked in good faith to provide the best assessment based on the information available,” Rice continued. “You know the FBI and the State Department’s Accountability Review Board are conducting investigations as we speak, and they will look into all aspects of this heinous terrorist attack to provide what will become the definitive accounting of what occurred.”
Here’s one of Rice’s comments from the Sunday following the attack, on CBS’ Face the Nation: “Based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video. But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.”
When host Bob Schieffer asked if she was disagreeing with the assessment of the previous guest, President of Libya’s General National Congress Mohamed Yousef Magariaf, Rice responded, “We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”
Rice today reflected on the loss of Ambassador Chris Stevens, then said she’d be “very clear” about McCain.
“I have great respect for Senator McCain and his service to our country. I always have, and I always will. I do think that some of the statements he’s made about me have been unfounded, but I look forward to having the opportunity at the appropriate time to discuss all of this with him,” she said.
McCain was a guest on Face the Nation after Rice on Sept. 16, when he famously rebutted her comments by noting, “Most people don’t bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration.”
“That was an act of terror, and for anyone to disagree with that fundamental fact I think is really ignoring the facts. Now, how long it was planned and who was involved, but there is no doubt there was extremists and there’s no doubt they were using heavy weapons and they used pretty good tactics–indirect fire, direct fire, and obviously they were successful,” he added.