America's ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, pushed back hard against Republican attacks on her initial description of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in a letter made public Friday.
In her response to three Republican senators' demand for an explanation, Rice was non-apologetic and told them that they had misquoted her and taken her statements out of context.
Rice was roundly criticized by conservatives when she appeared on five Sunday news shows days after the attack and said it appeared to have escalated out of a protest sparked by a U.S.-made anti-Islam video posted to YouTube.
“In answering, I relied solely and squarely on the information the intelligence community provided to me and other senior U.S. officials, including through the daily intelligence briefings that present the latest reporting and analysis to policymakers,” Rice wrote to Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).
“In the immediate aftermath,” the agency said, “there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo. We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly.”
And she denies using the weak term “expression of hostility” to describe the attack in Libya.
The senators said they weren't impressed. They've argued it was clear from the beginning that heavily armed militants who attacked the compound weren't protesters, and pointed to reports that the administration was told within hours of the attack that al Qaeda might have been involved.
“Elements of the intelligence community apparently told the administration within hours of the attack that militants connected with al Qaeda were involved, yet Ambassador Rice claims her comments five days later reflected the ‘best’ and ‘current’ assessment of the intelligence community,” they said in a statement responding to Rice's letter. “Either the Obama administration is misleading Congress and the American people, or it is blaming the entire failure on the intelligence community.”