U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said Tuesday she incorrectly claimed the September terrorist attack in Benghazi was the result of a protest over an anti-Islam video because of faulty intelligence.
In a statement released shortly after a meeting with three Republican senators who have criticized her comments, Rice said she did not mean to mislead the public with her initial comments on cable television about the attack.
"In the course of the meeting, 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."
Rice is considered a front-runner to succeed Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonCountering the ongoing Republican delusion Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves Poll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future MORE as secretary of State, but the controversy over her comments has raised doubts about whether she would win Senate confirmation.
Rice and Acting CIA Director Michael Morell met for more than an hour Tuesday with Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP senators appalled by 'ridiculous' House infighting MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace, Chris Christie battle over Fox News Trump's attacks on McConnell seen as prelude to 2024 White House bid MORE (R-Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks This Thanksgiving, skip the political food fights and talk UFOs instead Biden move to tap oil reserves draws GOP pushback MORE (R-S.C.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteSununu setback leaves GOP scrambling in New Hampshire The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - GOP dealt 2022 blow, stares down Trump-era troubles Sununu exit underscores uncertain GOP path to gain Senate majority MORE (R-N.H.) in an attempt to explain her comments, which initially linked the violence to other protests in the region.
On Tuesday, Rice 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."
Republicans have suggested that the White House was reluctant to acknowledge the incident was a planned terrorist attack because it could have hurt President Obama ahead of the election. Some Republicans, including McCain and Graham, have suggested that they would block any move by Obama to appoint Rice to Clinton's successor.
While Rice said she "appreciated" the opportunity to speak with the lawmakers and said issues were addressed "directly and constructively," in a press conference shortly after the meeting, the Republican senators said they were not convinced by her explanation.
“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 Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Ayotte echoed Graham, 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.
Rice pledged in her statement that the Obama administration remained "committed to working closely with Congress as we thoroughly investigate the terrorist attack in Benghazi."
Earlier this month, Obama told reporters it was unfair to criticize Rice for having repeated talking points provided from the intelligence community, and stressed he was ready to fight for her nomination. Rice is a close Obama ally who served as his senior foreign policy adviser in the 2008 campaign.
Julian Pecquet contributed.