Rice defends Benghazi remarks, calls McCain criticisms ‘unfounded’

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice on Wednesday defended her handling of the September attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, calling GOP criticisms “unfounded.”

Rice told reporters during a briefing at the U.N. that her initial account of the attack, which killed four Americans, was based on then-current intelligence community assessments. 

“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.”

Rice initially said the attack was sparked by anti-American anger over a film critical of Islam which was posted to YouTube. The administration later amended that explanation, acknowledging that the assault was a planned terrorist attack.

Republicans have questioned whether the White House sought to downplay the terrorist angle to score political points ahead of the election and the controversy could be a stumbling block if President Obama nominates Rice to replace Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonColorado governor teases possible presidential run Mueller asks judge for September sentencing for Papadopoulos House Judiciary Committee subpoenas FBI agent who sent anti-Trump texts MORE as Secretary of State in his second term.

Rice hit back at GOP Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMulvaney aims to cement CFPB legacy by ensuring successor's confirmation Trump mocks McCain at Nevada rally Don’t disrespect McCain by torpedoing his clean National Defense Authorization Act MORE (Ariz.), who has been a staunch critic of the ambassador over the Benghazi affair. McCain has said he would block her nomination to the nation’s top diplomatic post and last week nearly 100 House Republicans signed a letter urging Obama not to nominate her.

“I have great respect for Sen. McCain and his service to our country. I always have and I always will,” said Rice about the Arizona senator. “I do think that some of the statements he’s made about me have been unfounded, but I look forward to having the opportunity at the appropriate time to discuss all of this with him.”

The content of the talking points given to Rice by the intelligence community has come under scrutiny from lawmakers after former CIA Director David Petraeus said in a closed-door hearing last week that he immediately believed the Sept. 11 attack was an act of terrorism.

An intelligence official said last week that the unclassified talking points given to Rice before she appeared on Sunday talk shows in the aftermath of the attack were not altered by the White House.

Democrats have suggested that there may be a difference between the classified information available to the CIA and the unclassified notes publicly shared with the ambassador.

Republicans, though, say the administration must explain why the CIA’s explanation for the consulate attack differed from Rice’s public statements.

On Wednesday, Rice defended the intelligence community’s work. 

“Everyone, particularly the intelligence community, has worked in good faith to provide the best assessment based on the information available,” she told reporters.

Rice said that the administration was focused on finding those who attacked the U.S. mission. 

“None of us will rest, none of us will be satisfied until we have the answers and the terrorists responsible for this attack are brought to justice,” said Rice.