UN Ambassador Susan Rice met today with her biggest Hill critics on Benghazi — Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) — in an attempt to stem furor over her potential nomination for secretary of State.
But her attempt to smooth waters didn’t seen to have the intended effect. “I’m more disturbed now than I was before,” Graham told reporters afterward.
Rice issued a statement after the meeting, which included Acting CIA Director Michael Morell, to discuss her Sept. 16 comments that blamed protests over an anti-Muhammad video for the deadly attack on the diplomatic facility.
“I appreciated the opportunity to discuss these issues directly and constructively with them,” Rice said. “In the course of the meeting, we 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.”
“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 continued. “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.”
“In real time it was a statement disconnected from reality. If anybody had been looking at the threats coming out of Benghazi, Libya it was jump out at you, this was — an al-Qaeda storm in the making,” Graham said. “I’m very disappointed in our intelligence community. I think they failed in many ways. But with a little bit of inquiry and curiosity, I think it would be pretty clear that to explain this episode as related to a video that created a mob that turned into a riot was far afield.”
If the American people were given incorrect information five days after the attack, and more bad info by President Obama even after that, the senator continued, “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?”
“So my belief is not only is the information bad — and I’m more convinced than ever that it was bad — it was unjustified to give the scenario as presented by Ambassador Rice and President Obama three weeks before an election,” Graham said.
Ayotte said she was “more troubled today knowing… it’s certainly clear from the beginning that we knew that those with ties to al Qaeda were involved in the attack on the embassy.”
“Obviously the changes made to the unclassified talking points were misleading. But just to be clear, when you have a position where you’re ambassador to the United Nations, you go well beyond classified talking points in your daily preparation and responsibilities for that job,” Ayotte said. “And that’s troubling to me, as well, why she wouldn’t have asked.”
Graham said senators are “not even close to getting the basic answers” and promised they’d remind Democrats of their opposition to John Bolton if they fuss about a holdup of a Rice nomination.
“Our Democratic friends felt like that John Bolton didn’t have the information needed to make an informed decision about Ambassador Bolton’s qualifications, John Bolton to be ambassador,” he said. “And Democrats dug in their heels saying we’re not going to vote, we’re not going to consider this nomination until we get basic answers to our concerns.”