November 27th, 2012
11:15 AM ET
10 years ago

Lawmakers say meeting with Rice left them with more questions

Washington (CNN) – Republican lawmakers said Tuesday their meeting with Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and the acting CIA director left them with more unanswered questions about her remarks following the September 11, 2012 attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.

Speaking to reporters after the morning meeting, Sen. John McCain said he and fellow Republicans Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Lindsey Graham were "significantly troubled" by many of the answers they received from Rice, who asked for the meeting with the three senators after they issued sharp criticism of her response to the Benghazi attack.

"It was clear that the information that she gave the American people was incorrect when she said that it was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video," McCain said. "There was compelling evidence at the time that was certainly not the case, including statements by Libyans as well as other Americans who are fully aware that people don't bring mortars and rocket propelled grenades to a spontaneous demonstration."

Graham, speaking after McCain, said he was "more disturbed now than I was before that 16 September explanation about how four Americans died in Benghazi, Libya, by Ambassador Rice."

"I think it does not do justice to the reality at the time and in hindsight was clearly completely wrong. But here's the key. In real time, it was a statement disconnected from reality," the South Carolina Republican said.

McCain, Graham, and Ayotte have led the criticism of Rice after her television appearances days after the September attack, which killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.

They and other Republicans said they would block the nomination of Rice, should she be advanced by President Barack Obama to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has said she will leave her post when a replacement is ready to be installed.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded with a defense of Rice: "The focus on – some might say obsession on – comments made on Sunday shows seems to me and to many to be misplaced."

"There are no unanswered questions about ambassador Rice's appearance on Sunday shows and the talking points that she used for those appearances that were provided by the intelligence community," he said at Tuesday's White House briefing for reporters. "Those questions have been answered. The questions that remain to be answered - and that the President insists are answered - have to do with what happened in Benghazi: who was responsible for the deaths of four Americans, including our ambassador, and what steps we need to take to ensure that something like that does not happen again."

In the meeting, Rice "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," according to a statement she released.

She said the meeting was attended by acting CIA Director Michael Morell, who took the reins of the spy agency two weeks ago after the sudden resignation of director David Petraeus amid an extramarital affair. Petraeus briefed lawmakers on the attacks before Thanksgiving.

"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," Rice said in the statement. "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."

Graham said on Tuesday it was too soon to make a determination on whether or not to block a potential Rice nomination, saying "before anybody can make an intelligent decision about promoting someone involved in Benghazi, we need to do a lot more."

"All I can tell you are that the concerns I have are greater today than they were before and we're not even close to getting the basic answers," he continued.

Later this week, Rice will meet with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the homeland security committee, which is investigating the Benghazi attack. Collins has not been as critical of Rice as McCain, Graham and Ayotte but has said Rice needs to explain what happened.

This weekend, McCain expressed more openness to her potentially filling that post, saying he would "give everyone the benefit of explaining their position and the actions that they took. I'd be glad to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with her."

He denied Tuesday those remarks reflected a "softening" of his position on Rice.

Rice has not been offered the position but is suspected to top the list of possible successors. At a press conference after his re-election, Obama called McCain and Graham's criticism of Rice "outrageous," adding that if they "and others want to go after someone they should go after me."

The ambassador said she was using de-classified talking points that did not reference the attack as a pre-meditated terror attack, and the spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence later said those talking points were prepared by the intelligence community, and not modified by other governmental agencies.

"When discussing the attacks on 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," Rice told reporters last Wednesday.

McCain charged on the floor of the U.S. Senate hours before Obama's post-election press conference that "this president and this administration has either been guilty of colossal incompetence or engaged in a cover up, neither of which are acceptable to the American people."

Republicans have questioned why the administration used Rice as their spokeswoman, rather than an official more closely involved with the investigation, as well as why the U.S. timeline included a protest surrounding a controversial anti-Islam web video, which now appears to have not been a factor.

On Monday, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a GOP member of the Foreign Relations Committee who recently said Rice was "not fitting" to be Secretary of State in part because of comments on the attack, appeared to shift his views about Rice.

Inhofe said Rice may have been "thrown under the bus" because she wasn't given the full details of what happened before going on television.

"I assumed she had full knowledge of everything that went on," Inhofe said about his initial criticism of Rice. "I'm not at all convinced of that now. I think she very well could have been thrown under the bus."

Inhofe said Monday he has had no request to meet with Rice at this point but that he would be glad to meet with her.

- CNN's Gregory Wallace and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report

Filed under: John McCain • Kelly Ayotte • Lindsey Graham • Susan Rice
soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Ambassador Rice, you should tell McCain, Graham & Ayotte to do what Clint Eastwood said he couldn't tell Mitt Romney to do with himself. That being said, the acting CIA director will be in the meeting to clarify any misunderstandings the 3 Stooges have.

    November 27, 2012 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  2. Rudy NYC

    Before some of you liberals get too upset, consider this. She's giving McCain a way to save face and put an end to this woefully ill-advised line of attack by these Senators. McCain and Graham will be able to walk away and say, "I'm now satisfied."

    November 27, 2012 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  3. nasa1

    Let's just hope that McCain, Graham & Ayotte treat her like a "man" instead of a "woman". The gloves need to be off! Equality above the LAW!

    November 27, 2012 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  4. freedom

    Why isn't she being questioned under oath? Where is Hilary Clinton? Where is the president? Still the cover-up. People were murdered – the state department watched. Where are Americans and media who care? What does half this country value anymore? There's another half out here who will seek the truth – always.

    November 27, 2012 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  5. Randy, San Francisco

    Good luck to Rice as she meets with the angry white men of the GOP/Tea Party.

    November 27, 2012 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  6. allens

    politicians not patriots, that is what we have. mccain, graham, ayotte and many more conservative republicans. they care about their party more than the american citizens

    November 27, 2012 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  7. Al-NY,NY


    Why isn't she being questioned under oath? Where is Hilary Clinton? Where is the president? Still the cover-up. People were murdered – the state department watched. Where are Americans and media who care? What does half this country value anymore? There's another half out here who will seek the truth – always.

    when will they be questioned under oath??? When Condy, Duh Duh Duh-bya and Darth Vader come and testify under oath about their vendetta war in Iraq. THAT'S when

    November 27, 2012 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  8. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    After facing criticism from Republican lawmakers surrounding her characterization
    Except that it wasn't "her characterization" was it CNN? She was just reporting the information that was given to her by our intelligence department. Your insistence in mischaracterizing her report as if it were of her own fabrication is the reason why this story hasn't died a peaceful and LOOONG overdue death in the media.
    Way to juice it CNN. Beats reporting something positive about this administration or this well-accomplished lady.
    Try to move Forward with the rest of us.

    November 27, 2012 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  9. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Perhaps Ms. Rice should tell McCain and Graham how she planned and funded the Benghazi attacks right from the comfort and confines of the NBC studios. Then they'd be satisfied. Worthless racist bigoted shamless republicans.

    November 27, 2012 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  10. Rosslaw

    Three republican senators and their main contribution to American life is lying about what Susan Rice supposedly said based on talking points which republican congressman Peter King acknowledged the CIA had "ok'd". McCain slips in and out of lucidity and Graham is barely relevant even to his own party. Remind me-exactly what have any ot these three mental giants have acciomplished of late.

    November 27, 2012 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  11. rrhloe

    If she's willing to just repeat anything she's told to say, without regard to whether the information has merit, I think that speaks more for the kind of person she is. That's not who should be Secretary of State, although I'm convinced it's the kind of person Obama wants.

    November 27, 2012 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  12. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Really not interested in giving McShame and Graham a way to save face. They have become bottom-feeders as far as I'm concerned, instigators of conspiracy theories and just overall sore-losers.

    November 27, 2012 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  13. Roger Maccormick

    She is the worst US ambassador to the UN. She drop the the ball the Benghazi case. Obama is Obama. He is going to defend her no matter what she did. They need to get rid off her.

    November 27, 2012 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  14. Rudy NYC

    freedom wrote:

    Why isn't she being questioned under oath? Where is Hilary Clinton? Where is the president? Still the cover-up. People were murdered – the state department watched. Where are Americans and media who care? What does half this country value anymore? There's another half out here who will seek the truth – always.
    TRANSLATION: You don't trust McCain, Graham and company to report the truth.

    Why no oath? You don't know that from a hole in the ground. Everyone has to answer to the Congress. If Senators request a briefing from the US Ambassador to the UN, then she is obligated to grant it to them.

    Before you go off about "people were murdered", I suggest you look at the body count of "people who were murdered" by terrorist attacks under GWB, and I'm not talking about 9/11.

    Where's the media? The hive mind at Fox News will provide an unfair and unbalanced report on the meeting.

    November 27, 2012 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  15. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    So what did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton say initially about the Beghazi attacks? While Ms. Clinton condemned the attacks, like the CIA, Ms. Clinton also said the attacks were the results of an anti-islamic web video. So why hasn't the GOP gone after Ms. Clinton? Furthermore, the role of the Secretary of State is to "ensure the protection of the U.S. government to American citizens, property and interests in foreign countries and to supervise foreign service of the United States." So why haven't the GOP gone after Ms. Clinton??? No, I'm afraid Ms. Rice wasn't in a position to provide security to our consolate in Benghazi from the confines of the NBC studios because she doesn't have the authority or power of Secretary of State. Racist bigoted shameless republicans.

    November 27, 2012 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  16. Walt Merritt

    First off if you can't spell or use words correctly your opinions are invalidated automatically. Second she repeated what was stated on the DECLASSIFIED talking points. Had she stated what was on the CLASSIFIED talking points she would be breaking the law and I could understand not wanting her as SOS.

    If the Republicans, Tea Partiers and Faux "News" really want to know why she didn't state on National TV what was contained in the CLASSIFIED talking points rather than the DECLASSIFIED talking points; and these jokers are supposed to be the GOP/Tea Party leaders on National Security then the GOP and Tea Party has a much larger problem than I previously imagined.

    November 27, 2012 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  17. Linda

    to AI-NY, NY. Excellent post, just excellent.

    November 27, 2012 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  18. Sumsanity

    Sue: " OK, here's the best story we could come up with... uh... I mean here's what BO told me to say... uh I mean... David Axleshaft said to blow some smoke up your skirts... Uh... Oh heck... who cares anyway? You don't. The press doesn't . Let's get this dog and pony show over with so I can move over to Billary's job"
    You can bet "first woman president" is rattling around in the back of her treacherous skull.

    November 27, 2012 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  19. greg

    WHY arent the Democrats (also) calling for justice in this case ? What manner of sheep-le have half the population become ?! People were left to DIE in Benghazi, understand ? This criminally negligent administration (and I wouldn't care if they were republicans, or not) saw it as politically expedient given the reelection to not escalate the situation (no support for those soldiers who fought for several hours before dying) – then to lie about 'a video' for days – when it was well known (the Ambassador's own status report that evening prior to retiring 'all is quiet') – There WAS no demonstration, people, understand ? Nothing 'escalated' as a result of a 'video'. Explaining this as a well organized attack – when the Obama-ites were touting 'winning the war on terror' as a campaign platform, THAT is why we have been stonewalled as to the truth. Also, other nations had already pulled representation out of Benghazi as too dangerous. We chose to sacrifice a few folks to convey an image of normalcy...... People died, they were left to die, The Embassy (US Soil, btw...) was overrun, we were lied to about it from the highest levels of government. My gosh, the sheeple follow the Democratic teat wherever it leads them.......Sheesh, it would be interesting to see what the media/Dems (one in the same) would have done had a Bush done this.....

    November 27, 2012 09:56 am at 9:56 am |
  20. Wire Palladin, S.F.

    Conspiracy theorists who get their lies from Fox foreign owned media have to be the dumbest people in America.

    November 27, 2012 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  21. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    While John McCain has no problem questioning the integrity and character of Ms. Rice, let me reiterate what McCain war comreds have acknowledged for decades and that is that John McCain is no war hero. During the Vietnam war, John McCain seriously violated the Military Code of Conduct by trading vital and covert military information to the enemy in exchange for special treatment. For example, after McCain was captured as a prisoner of war by the North Vietnamese in 1967, he collaborated with the enemy and gave them his ship's name and squadron number, described the number of aircraft in his flight, information about rescue ships and the order of which his attack was supposed to take place and confirmed that his target had been the power plant, all in exchange to be taken to the hospital. Yes, John McCain is a traitor and a coward to the core!

    November 27, 2012 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  22. Seattle11

    Would the people at Benghazi be less dead if President Obama said in the Rose Garden that it was a " a terrorist attack" instead of an "act of terror"? I don't think so.

    November 27, 2012 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  23. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    So when the mandate came up for the Martin Luther King Jr., Holiday in 1983, Senator John McCain voted against the bill. Then during his initial run for the presidency a few years ago, he claimed that he voted against the King Holiday because he did not have enough time to study Dr. King's legacy. JCan you imagine running for a seat as United States Senator a few years back and not studying the legacy of Dr. King, an American pioneer who fought for racial justice and equality and helped to shape and solidify our American democracy? Simply outrageous and appalling! O' but wait, Senator McCain did however save face during the 40th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination by showing up to take part in a ceremony in Memphis TN in 2008. No, his appearance had nothing to do with the fact that he was running for the presidency again. Yea right!

    November 27, 2012 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  24. Thomas

    Why isn't she being questioned under oath? Where is Hilary Clinton? Where is the president? Still the cover-up. People were murdered – the state department watched. Where are Americans and media who care? What does half this country value anymore? There's another half out here who will seek the truth – always.

    You sound like truth hurts !

    November 27, 2012 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  25. Ancient Texan

    Greg- Excellent post. Spells it all out clearly...but the half of the population you refer to is so in adoration of the current administration that they refuse to even consider that there is anything short of perfection possible.

    November 27, 2012 10:31 am at 10:31 am |
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