November 27th, 2012
05:09 PM ET
10 years ago

Ayotte: Rice 'certainly' misled on Benghazi, but unsure of motive

(CNN) - Sen. Kelly Ayotte, one of the Republicans harshly critical of Ambassador Susan Rice, described Rice's initial characterization of the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya as misleading, but stopped short of calling the remarks intentionally so.

"Certainly she misled the American public," Ayotte said in an interview Tuesday on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360." "I think that she would say that. She'd have to say that because she began our meeting today admitting that the representations about the video and the protests were wrong, and the impression left [for] the American people was misleading."

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To the question of whether the comments were intentionally misleading, Ayotte continued, "I don't know that I am in a position to question [Rice's] motives, but its deeply troubling to me that someone of that important position would go on every major news network knowing that she had obviously previously reviewed other classified reports that left a different impression with the omission of the important reference to Al Qaeda."

The New Hampshire Republican was joined by Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning with Rice, who represents the U.S. at the United Nations. Rice was put forward by the Obama administration to speak the weekend after the attacks, which killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

After the meeting, Ayotte said at a news conference that she is "more troubled today knowing having met with the acting director of the CIA [Michael Morell] and Ambassador Rice because it is certainly clear from the beginning that we knew that those with ties to al Qaeda were involved in the attack on the embassy and clearly the impression that was given, the information given to the American people was wrong.

"In fact, Ambassador Rice said today, absolutely it was wrong," Ayotte said.

Rice said in a statement after the Tuesday meeting with Ayotte, McCain, and Graham that "neither I nor anyone else in the Administration intended to mislead the American people at any stage in this process."

In an appearance on NBC September 16, Rice said the attack involved "a spontaneous reaction to a video" which had led to an earlier protest in Cairo, Egypt. Asked whether the incident was one of terrorism, she said "opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding."

On CNN's "State of the Union," Rice described it as a "horrific incident where some mob was hijacked ultimately by a handful of extremists." Rice appeared on other programs and made similar comments.

The de-classified talking points which Rice and others used did not include references to the attacks being organized terrorism. The spokesman for the director of National Intelligence said the talking points were not modified by any agency outside of the intelligence community.

Ayotte, McCain, and Graham have said they would raise objections to Rice's nomination should she be advanced to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but would consider additional information before casting a vote. Clinton has said she is not interested in serving out a second Obama term, but will stay in office until a successor is ready to be installed.

Rice has not been nominated for the spot but is suspected to top the list of possible candidates.

Ayotte told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in her Tuesday interview that she is "digesting" Rice's comments in the meeting but remains "very concerned." Should Rice be advanced, Ayotte added she would "hold the nomination until we get a full and complete picture of what happened here and some of those questions have been answered today."

President Barack Obama defended Rice at a post-election news conference, calling the senators' criticism of Rice "outrageous," adding that if they "and others want to go after someone they should go after me."

After Ayotte, McCain, and Graham said troubling questions remain, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, "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."

"The focus on - some might say obsession on - comments made on Sunday shows seems to me and to many to be misplaced," Carney said to reporters.

Ayotte responded in her CNN interview, "That's actually one of the most troubling things that I've heard, that there are no unanswered questions."

"Let's put this in the bigger picture: there are huge unanswered questions," about the consulate's security and preparation, the U.S. response, and Rice's remarks.

Filed under: Kelly Ayotte • Susan Rice
soundoff (97 Responses)
  1. Elbert

    There are no unanswered questions.
    These aren't the droids you're looking for.
    War is Peace.
    Freedom is Slavery.
    Move Forward. Keep moving. Nothing to see here.

    November 27, 2012 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  2. fernace

    I think what has happened here is that the GOT-Party though jumping on this story & level accusations before any1 knew what happened, would sink Obama's re-election chances! That didn't happen, so to save face they must continue to question & probe just to make it look like there truly is something to the "cover up" story they used to lead the attack with! 4 people died at a consulate in Libya, an unstable nation still in its rebuilding process & that is tragic! But I don't recall there ever having been such accusations or unwillingness to be satisfied w/forthcoming explanations, in any other attack on Americans on foreign soil, which has happened many times to many administrations! This issue has been blown out of proportion by those thought they could use it for political gain! That's worse than tragic, it's unconscionable!!

    November 27, 2012 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  3. Ancient Texan

    She was trying to keep the whole thing quiet until after the election. The rah rah "Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive" every day of the campaign came back to bite the administration with an Al Qaeda attack.

    November 27, 2012 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  4. CBR

    Good grief woman. You have been used by these men who needed someone new in their trio. You need to stand on your own and make your own judgements. If Ms. Rice told you why she made those statements then you must give he the benefit at this time. IF you continue along the McCain/Graham path you will definitely be on the short end of the stick. People from NH have faith in you and they expect you to solve problems for them. The fiscal problems are the important problems right now.

    No one is forgetting about out Americans who died in Libya. We want to know the true story and the government will honor that request. The safety and well-being of those serving in embassies and consuls all over the world are depending on those answers.

    November 27, 2012 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  5. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    What they are not talking about is what was classified at the time she spoke to the tv shows. There is also the issue of the fact that she said that there was an on-going investigation that uncovered more facts.

    November 27, 2012 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  6. Maria Rivera-Carvalho

    Republicans learned nothing from their sound defeat. Ayotte will soon be joining the Scott Brown club with her desperate campaign against anything and everything.

    November 27, 2012 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  7. Hispanic woman in Houston

    A student of mine wrote a speech about how this incident has affected his life. Had Rice and President Obama never mentioned the video, his family in Pakistan wouldn't have seen their property destroyed. They wouldn't have been in fear of purchasing food during the riots. 21 people in his country wouldn't have died because of the violent protests against the video, America, and our President. This is one story of many throughout the middle east. I agree, Intel should not be given to the public, but lies shouldn't replace the truth. Rice shouldn't be Secretary of state. She has lost her credibility throughout the world. Everyone now knows she didn't tell the truth.

    November 27, 2012 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  8. cover up

    Why did Rice say some tiny video caused it? If she does not know the cause of deaths, then do not go on TV. Poor judgment. Incompetence.

    November 27, 2012 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  9. Matt

    I'm getting the sense that Susan Rice is kind of Obama's version of Nixon's John Dean: Announce to the world what you know about this matter and sign your name to it so that you are the one who takes the fall for the president.

    November 27, 2012 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  10. Over the hill

    Ms Ayotte, I understand your need to get attention and make a name for yourself , but let me tell you something you need to know .. you tied your horse to the wrong wagon. McCain and Graham will bring you down with them. They are bumbling fools, and now you look like one of them.. with just a slightly deeper voice than Graham.
    I think it is important for you to remember that when she is put up for the position of Sec of State, she will be answering all the questions you asked in private, in front of the whole public. At that time we will all find out that you, Lindsey, and John were just blowing hot air. Think before you hook up with men who have lost all sense of reality.

    November 27, 2012 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  11. Over the hill

    Mr Graham let everyone know why he has taken the position he is taking... it is "get back" time for how the democrats treated Mr Bolton... yes, it has nothing to do with anything he heard today, he is just still hacked that dems held up Bolton when he was nominated. Good reasoning? No, Childish behavior? Yes.

    November 27, 2012 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
  12. Ben

    What a shameful display of political witch hunt. This woman is allowing herself to be manipulated by McCain and his crazy partner Graham.. McCain and Graham are putting their selfish agenda ahead of the nations interest. All they are doing is doing whatever it takes to get to Obama, and it is so obvious that Rice is being used as a stepping stone. Shame on McCain, and Lindsey Graham.

    November 27, 2012 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  13. DaveC

    Ayotte is a first term AND a one term senator. She is as gone as yesterday's memories in the next election. News flash for this goofball: stop wasting time on this nonsense and work on the economy and jobs. Did Ayotte ever hear of the fiscal situation happening right now? What is she doing about that? Probably not a darn thing. New Hampshire deserves better.

    New Hampshire needs to take a page from the 8th congressional district in Illinois. They had a goofball named Rep. Joe Walsh who blamed Obama for everything and was defeated soundly. It is time for New Hampshire to do the same to Sen. Ayotte.

    November 27, 2012 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  14. ohreally

    Imagine my surprise when a NH Tea Party Senator backs McCain and Graham on a GOP witch hunt. Keep it up kids. You are going to make 2014 easy. You just don't get it.

    November 27, 2012 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  15. GeneK

    Petraeus and others have already expounded on the need to not release information prematurely to avoid compromising confidential intelligence sources. Just letting your enemies know what you know and how soon you know it is enough to clue them in on the possibility that you have people inside their organization.

    The real reason the GOP is pushing so hard on this "deception" thing is that while Rice was sticking to the talking points that had been crafted by the intelligence agencies to avoid compromising confidential intelligence sources, their own members of the House and Senate were running all over the TV and radio talk show circuit blabbing about terrorist attacks and links to AQ – and compromising confidential intelligence sources.

    November 27, 2012 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  16. Linda

    Not that anyone will believe it but the White House has explained that Rice said what she was was told–no motive, no hidden agenda. The President knew he had to have someone say something asap so his main "sin" was not waiting until he knew the full story–although it didn't make sense from the beginning that a spontaneous attack would include such heavy weapons. I really think though that Rice simply said what she knew. She had no reason to mislead the public. In fact, if Bush had still been President I'm sure he would've shouted "terrorist attack" from the roof tops-one gets so much more attention that way and one can often get Congress to go to war of WMD's or heaven forbid "nuclar" weapons. Cries of a terrorist attack without confirmation or evidence would've been a Republican way to handle the tragedy in Libya. Of course Romney would've had a difficult time making up his mind as to what exactly happened–but gosh golly I hope he gets the car elevator installed in his house.

    November 27, 2012 11:12 pm at 11:12 pm |
  17. Former Republican, now an Independent

    I think it is fairly toxic for republicans to speak of anyone misleading the public. The GOP has a horrible record of misleading the public for the last 30 years. It would be wise for them to re-assess their record of lies and deceit, since they proclaim to take the high road on morality, which is Sadly another deception!

    November 27, 2012 11:12 pm at 11:12 pm |
  18. jade

    is there anyone out there that can say obama was running the show?

    November 27, 2012 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
  19. Larry L

    Republicans don't get it. We want them to quit whining and get to their real job. Stop creating conspiracies and attacking the President of the United States – that's your media moron Rush Limbaugh's job. We hired you to help Americans get jobs, feed their kids, keep their homes, and live in a peaceful, healthy, and safe environment. Throw McCain out to pasture. He makes Republicans look bigoted, hateful, spiteful and foolish – and they do that well enough without his contribution.

    November 27, 2012 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  20. Charlotte

    Ayoette, like the other GOP folks, is finding conspiracies under her bedsheets. These children will not accept the election and so are trying to maintain credibility and relevance by beating a dead dog – the whole theory that there was some conspiracy to mislead about Benghazi. If they will ever grow up, put on their big boy pants and start focusing on real issues, the American people will be relieved. So tired of them trying to manufacture controversy where there is none. It still all comes down to racism.

    November 28, 2012 12:01 am at 12:01 am |
  21. Alfred E. Neuman

    Rice was the good soldier for the Administration. She went out and sung the song she was provided. Is it any worse than what Colin Powell did defending the existence of WMD in Iraq. I think not. Get over and move one.

    November 28, 2012 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  22. C Lo

    Say it like it is. It was a cover up to help Obama's re-election. It was a lie and a coverup of the complete failure of the Obama administratiion to protect our Ambassador and consulate. Prior attacks, other Embassy's close, no security, no response, no preparation for 9/11, and 4 Americans die. Someone or some people need to be held accountable.

    It doesn't matter if it was a video protest or a terrorist attack. The Obama administration lied about it, covered it up, and is not being held accountable for this complete security failure at an American embassy and consulate.

    I guess it doesn't matter. It's just politics, liberals vs conservatives.

    November 28, 2012 12:15 am at 12:15 am |
  23. J.V.Hodgson

    This is and remains something started based on a pure unadulterated CONSPIRACY THEORY, now 98% debunked.And a personal witch hunt against a clearly respected qualified person to be USA ambassador to the UN; which this same committee had to approve.!?
    Now the most troubling part for me when police investigate a murder local, state, or Feds, they dont give out ALL the details out and keep something(3) back that only the perpetrator might know ow witnesses tell them about the perpetrator.
    The huge " benefit of hindsight being used in criticism further makes this a pure political dance with little meaning and value.
    So far as I know Al qaeda was blamed even by Patraeus but does it not turn out? To be another extreme Islamic group with links only to Al qaeda. if you are going to catch the perpetrators you have to chase the right ones.
    Will senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte please note evidence os the ambassadors I stay and that we had a larger contingent at the safe house ( my guess at stevens behest) that was his style.

    November 28, 2012 12:45 am at 12:45 am |
  24. Getoverit

    This is a red herringā€¦nothing moreā€¦nothing less.
    Only in the eyes of the lefty loons and the MSM.

    November 28, 2012 12:58 am at 12:58 am |
  25. Getoverit

    If this had happened during the Bush administration you clowns would have demanded his execution!

    November 28, 2012 01:01 am at 1:01 am |
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