U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice leaves following a General Assembly vote granting Palestinians non-member observer status on Thursday in New York City.(Photo: Spencer Platt, Getty Images)
WASHINGTON -- The partisan political divide over the potential
nomination of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to be secretary of state
intensified Sunday with Republicans questioning her fitness for the job
and Democrats defending her.
Republican senators said they remain
deeply concerned over Rice's statements about the Sept. 11 attack on the
U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, and suggested her motive was
to help President Obama's re-election chances. Democrats, meanwhile,
said they saw no reason the statements should disqualify her if she's
nominated to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton.
At issue is the
explanation Rice offered in a series of talk show appearances five days
after the Benghazi attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and
three other Americans.
Rice has conceded in private meetings with
lawmakers that her initial account - that a spontaneous demonstration
over an anti-Muslim video produced in the U.S. triggered the attack -
was wrong, but she has insisted she was not trying to mislead the
American people. That account was provided by intelligence officials who
have since said their understanding of the attack evolved as more
information came to light.
Appearing on Sunday talk shows, two of
Rice's fiercest Republican critics, Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire
and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said Rice's account on the Sept.
16 TV talk shows went beyond talking points that the intelligence
agencies gave her. For one, they noted she had said that security at the
Benghazi mission was "strong, substantial and significant."
statement "was not supported by the talking points," Ayotte said, noting
that Rice was privy to more than just the unclassified material she
discussed on television, including secret intelligence briefings that
pointed to al-Qaeda involvement in the attack.
"I think her story
on 16th of September was a political story designed to help the
president three weeks before the election, and she should be held
accountable for that," Graham said. He added that Rice's comments were
"a treasure trove of misleading statements that have the effect of
helping the president."
Rice met with both Graham and Ayotte last
week to explain the situation, but Graham said Rice "didn't do herself
much good" in the encounter.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker of
Tennessee said he and others questioned whether Rice was acting as a
diplomat or a "political operative."
Democrats, though, said Rice
is being unfairly victimized for repeating erroneous talking points
circulated by the intelligence community.
"Nothing that I have
heard, in my mind, would disqualify her" from being secretary of state,
said Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.
Sen. Claire McCaskill said what's happening to Rice is "terribly unfair"
and a brighter light should be shone on the role of former CIA chief
David Petraeus and his agency.
"The talking points came from the
intelligence community, yet you don't hear one criticism of David
Petraeus. It was his shop that produced the talking points that Susan
Rice talked about. ... Is there a double standard here? It appears to
most of us that there is. A very unfair one," she said.
terribly unfair that she should be the scapegoat for this when really
the failures ought to be at the lap of the head of the intelligence
community that produced these talking points but none of these guys will
say a word about David Petraeus," McCaskill added.
Feinstein of California, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee,
said she thought one of the problems was the distribution of
unclassified talking points and suggested that incomplete information
should not be put out, particularly if it differed from classified
All the lawmakers said they believed that inadequate
security at the mission must be investigated and corrected so that
Benghazi is not repeated.
Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, the
chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the lack of security
constituted "gross negligence."
Ayotte and Warner were on CNN's State of the Union. Corker and McCaskill spoke on NBC's Meet the Press and Graham, Feinstein and Rogers appeared on CBS' Face the Nation.