Top Democrats are defending Ambassador Susan Rice after a top House Republican called for her resignation because of questionable statements she made about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been hammered by Republican critics ever since she went on five interview shows on Sunday, Sept. 16 to say the attack on on the U.S. consulate was a "spontaneous" reaction to the outcry in Egypt over an anti-Muslim video posted on YouTube. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, went so far as to say Rice should resign for intentionally misleading the American people about what really happened.
"I believe it was such a failure of foreign policy messaging and leadership, such a misstatement of facts as was known at the time," King said in an interview on CNN. "For her to go on all of those shows and, in effect, be our spokesman for the world and be misinforming the American people and our allies and countries around the world - somebody has to pay a price for this."
That prompted a quick response from Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"I'm deeply disturbed by efforts to find the politics instead of finding the facts in this debate," Kerry said in a written statement. "I'm particularly troubled by calls for Ambassador Rice's resignation. She is a remarkable public servant for whom the liberation of the Libyan people has been a personal issue and a public mission. She's an enormously capable person who has represented us at the United Nations with strength and character."
In the days immediately following the attack in Benghazi, several other U.S. officials, including White House press secretary Jay Carney, also suggested it was spontaneous attack. But more recently, U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, have said the incident was a pre-planned terrorist attack.
In a statement Friday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called it a "deliberate and carefully planned terrorist attack" - although Clapper said U.S. intelligence agencies initially believed the attack was spontaneous and shared that information with the White House.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the House, also rallied to Rice's defense on Friday.
"Susan Rice is an exemplary public servant who has worked effectively on behalf of the U.S. and allies like Israel at the U.N.," Hoyer said in a written statement. "The loss of five Americans in Libya, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, is a horrible tragedy and we should be focused on bringing the perpetrators to justice, not playing politics. My understanding is that the information Ambassador Rice expressed reflected the intelligence community's most current assessment at that time."
In his statement, Kerry also pointed to an investigation ordered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton into what happened in Benghazi.
"Everyone who cares about the four fallen Americans in Benghazi would do well to take a deep breath about what happened and allow Secretary Clinton's proactive, independent investigation to proceed," Kerry said. "Our committee in the Senate has unanimously asked that some highly detailed, highly specific questions be answered as part of the current investigation. Congress will have plenty of time to examine those answers, and to discern what happened in Benghazi once the investigation is fully underway and the facts become clear."