Rice fails to convince Republican senators on Benghazi attack

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice failed Tuesday to convince Republican senators that she's not to blame for providing misleading information about the attack in Benghazi, Libya — raising new doubts about her potential nomination to be secretary of State.

During a meeting on Capitol Hill that lasted for more than an hour, Rice acknowledged "there was no protest" at the consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11 and said that talking points she relied on for making that claim were wrong. 

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But Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) said they were not satisfied with the ambassador's answers to their questions. 

“Bottom line, I'm more disturbed now than I was before [by] the 16 September explanation about how four Americans died in Benghazi, Libya, by Ambassador Rice,” said Graham.

Acting CIA Director Michael Morell joined Rice at the closed-door briefing with the GOP lawmakers.

“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got and some that we didn't get concerning some of the evidence that was overwhelming leading up to the attack on our consulate," McCain said. 


Republicans’ ire against Rice has focused on her statements on national television five days after the Sept. 11 attack, in which she linked it to a peaceful protest that spun out of control. 

Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans died in the attack, which the administration has since called an act of terrorism.

In a statement following Tuesday's meeting, Rice acknowledged "there was no protest or demonstration" in Benghazi and said she had relied on faulty briefing notes prepared by the intelligence community. 

"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.

"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 added. 

"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."

Rice said the Obama administration "remains committed to working closely with Congress as we thoroughly investigate the terrorist attack in Benghazi and bring to justice the terrorists responsible for the tragic deaths of our colleagues." 

Ayotte wasn't satisfied by Rice's explanation, saying she was “more troubled today having met with the acting director of the CIA and Ambassador Rice.”

“When you're in a position where you're ambassador to the United Nations, you go well beyond unclassified talking points in your daily preparation and responsibilities for that job. And that's troubling to me as well, why she wouldn't have asked” more questions, she said.

The trio of hawkish senators didn't definitively rule out voting for her if Rice is nominated, however.

“Before anyone can make an intelligent decision about promoting someone involved in Benghazi,” Graham said, “we need to go look through a lot more.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday defended Rice and accused the Republican trio of having an "obsession" with her.

"There are no unanswered questions about Ambassador Rice's appearance on Sunday shows," Carney said. "Those questions have been answered." 

He said the criticism of Rice is "misplaced" and that "we need to focus on bringing to justice those who killed four Americans."

President Obama, during a press conference this month, indicated he was prepared to fight for Rice's nomination, if he determines she's the best choice to lead the State Department.

Rice is a close Obama ally who served as his senior foreign policy adviser in the 2008 campaign and is widely believed to be a favorite for the State Department job. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) is considered another leading contender.


—Updated at 1:15 p.m.

Amie Parnes contributed to this story.