White House national security adviser Susan RiceSusan RiceAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Biden administration, stakeholders to host interagency event on economic equity Black Caucus pushes for priorities in final deal MORE on Friday defended her remark about how Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl had served in the military with "honor and distinction."
The comment has come under fire amid conflicting reports about whether Bergdahl deserted the Army in Afghanistan before being captured by the Taliban and held as a prisoner for five years.
Speaking to CNN’s Jim Acosta from the 70th anniversary event to mark D-Day in Normandy, France, Rice said her remark about Bergdahl was describing his decision to enter the military in war time.
“I realize there has been a lot of discussion and controversy around this,” Rice said to CNN about that remark. “What I was referring to is the fact that this was a young man who volunteered to serve his country in uniform at a time of war. That in itself is a very honorable thing.”
“But ‘honor and distinction?’ ” Acosta asked.
“Jim, really,” Rice said. “This is a young man whose circumstances we are still going to learn about.”
Rice said Bergdahl is being tried in “the court of public opinion” and said people should withhold judgment until the facts are known.
“He is, as all Americans, innocent until proven guilty,” Rice said. “He is now being tried in the court of public opinion after having gone through enormously traumatic five years of captivity. His parents, the same.”
The circumstances of Bergdahl's disappearance have become a flashpoint in the debate over President Obama's decision to swap five Taliban prisoners for his freedom. Republicans on Capitol Hill have decried the trade, saying the price was too high, and the administration has taken heavy criticism for agreeing to the deal without notifying Congress.
The administration has defended the deal, arguing it was necessary because Bergdahl's life was in danger.
For now, Rice said improving Bergdahl’s health and well-being is the top priority for the administration.
Once he recovers, she said the Army plans to launch a follow-up investigation into the nature of his 2009 disappearance.
“Let’s know the facts, including his side of the story, and then we can make a judgment,” said Rice.
The Bergdahl remarks aren't the first time Rice has stirred controversy with a Sunday show interview. She came under heavy fire for statements she made after the Benghazi attack in 2012.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said Rice's Bergdahl interview was "like a flashback.”
“It all seems to be political talking points, not real facts. It's very worrisome. And it almost seems a throwback to earlier scandals like Benghazi,” Vitter said Thursday on Fox News’s “On the Record.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said on Fox News’s “Hannity” on Wednesday said the administration's story about the Bergdahl swap continued to change after Rice’s remark.
“It was unfortunate Sunday to see Susan Rice yet again on Sunday shows yet again reading talking points,” Cruz said. “And I got to say it makes you wonder, she did this after Benghazi, and her willingness to stand up and read talking points that very quickly thereafter have proven to be nowhere near resembling the truth.”
Fox News host Bill O’Reilly called Rice “a moron,” while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) offered the Obama adviser a bit of advice.
"Stay off Sunday morning shows,” McCain said Wednesday on “Imus in the Morning.”
— This story was updated at 11:40 a.m.