Republican senators say they remain deeply troubled by the Obama administration’s initial accounts of the September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The senators spoke after meeting with America’s U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, who has come under fire for statements she made days after the assault that killed four Americans.
If Susan Rice hoped a face-to-face meeting with three of her sharpest critics on Capitol Hill would lay to rest Republican ire over the Benghazi incident, those hopes have been dashed.
“I am more disturbed now than I was before.” said Senator Lindsey Graham.
He said the meeting with Ambassador Rice provoked more questions than answers. Fellow-Republican Senator John McCain agreed.
“It is clear that the information she gave the American people was incorrect,” said McCain.
Five days after the Benghazi attack, Rice asserted initial intelligence assessments pointed to a spontaneous demonstration that attracted heavily-armed militants. The Obama administration has since conceded the assault was a terrorist attack.
“She said that it was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video," said McCain. "It was not.”
Senator Graham was even more emphatic.
“It was a statement disconnected from reality," he said. "If anybody had been looking at the threats coming out of Benghazi, Libya, it was ‘jump-out-at-you’ [obvious] that this was an al-Qaida storm in the making.”
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice speaks to reporters after a Security Council consultation on the situation in Iran, New York, May 18, 2010.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, left, and U.S. Ambassador to United Nations Susan Rice listen as President Barack Obama addresses the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 25, 2012.
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice visits a cholera treatment center in Tabarre, outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti, February 16, 2012.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, and British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant,vote to support a resolution backing an Arab League call for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down, New York, February 4, 2012.
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, center, visits residents at the Mandela camp for displaced southern Sudanese, south of Khartoum, in Sudan, May 22, 2011.
President Barack Obama gets ready to take his seat as South Korean President Lee Myung-bak greets U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, November 19, 2009.
Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaks to students and faculty at the Howard University School of Law in Washington, October 8, 2009.
Ambassador Rice did not appear with the senators following the meeting, but did issue a statement following the discussions saying initial information she had received about protests and demonstrations in Benghazi had been incorrect and that the initial assessments of what happened in Benghazi had evolved. In her only public remarks on that matter last week, Ambassador Rice said the Obama administration had acted in good faith based on the information it had to work with at the time of the incident.
“When discussing the attacks against our facilities in Benghazi, I relied solely and squarely on the information provided to me by the intelligence community," said Rice. "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.”
Earlier this month, Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte joined Senators McCain and Graham in calling for a special legislative committee to probe the Benghazi incident. Senator Ayotte had this to say after the meeting with Ambassador Rice.
“Clearly the impression that was given, the information given to the American people, was wrong," said Ayotte. "In fact, Ambassador Rice said today [that] absolutely it was wrong.”
Rice is thought to be a possible candidate to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state during President Obama’s second term. When asked by reporters, none of the three Republican senators would say if they would vote to confirm her, should she be nominated to the post.