GOP Lawmakers Still Troubled by Susan Rice

PHOTO: U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice listens during a news conference at the UN, June 7, 2012.
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United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice's attempts to "make nice" with a trio of Republican senators who have criticized her response to the Sept. 11 terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, seem to have backfired.

The senators said they left their face-to-face meeting with Rice this morning "more concerned" and "significantly troubled."

The three Republicans, Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, said not only did Rice, who was joined by Acting CIA Director Mike Morell, not answer all their questions about the attack but did little to assuage their overall worries.

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

"The concerns I have are greater today than before, and we're not even close to getting the basic answers," Graham said.

Today's meeting was seen as part of Rice's Capitol Hill "charm offensive," as her possible nomination to become the next secretary of state has met with some vocal opposition – especially from McCain, Graham and Ayotte, who still seemed to steer clear of questions about whether they would stand in the way if Rice was nominated.

"Before anybody can make an intelligent decision about promoting someone involved in Benghazi, we need to do a lot more," Graham said. "To this date, we don't have the FBI interviews of the survivors conducted one or two days after the attack. We don't have the basic information about what was said the night of the attack ... as of this date."

Graham compared the situation to 2006, when Senate Democrats blocked the nomination of John Bolton, President Bush's choice for U.N. ambassador.

What the senators seemed to find most problematic was Rice's statement on the Sunday morning news shows days after the attack. At first, she said it was a "spontaneous" attack and not a terrorist attack.

Ayotte said that in today's meeting Rice called the information she first gave to the American people wrong.

"It's certainly clear from the beginning that we knew that those with ties to al Qaeda were involved in the attack on the embassy, and clearly the impression that was given, the information given to the American people, was wrong," Ayotte said.

Rice said in a statement following 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. 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. 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."

Ayotte said that as the U.N. ambassador, Rice should have stepped up and said that she couldn't go on the Sunday morning news shows and talk about the attack without complete information.

Graham, like Ayotte, said it would have been better not to have given any information at all.

"If you can give nothing but bad information, isn't it better to give no information at all? It was unjustified to give the scenarios as presented by Ambassador Rice and President Obama three weeks before an election."

Others were not so concerned. Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Independent Democrat who has often sided with McCain on national security issues and broke with his party to endorse McCain's presidential bid in 2008, said he was satisfied by a meeting with Rice.

"I felt that she was telling me the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth," Lieberman said this afternoon following his meeting with Rice and acting CIA Director Mike Morell, "And based on that, corroborated by the director of the CIA, I don't think there's basis in those Sunday morning TV appearances for disqualifying Susan Rice from some other position in our government."

Lieberman did say that Rice admitted during the meeting that she wishes that she had said that "core" al Qaeda has been decimated instead of saying al Qaeda had been decimated during one of her interviews, a point that some Republicans have jumped on.

"To me based on her public record and her public service, barring some evidence to the contrary I think she's answered the questions that I have as to why she said the things she did on that Sunday morning program," Lieberman said.

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