A trio of Republican senators said they are even more troubled after meeting with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and acting CIA Director Mike Morrell Tuesday to discuss what Rice knew versus what she said on Sunday talk shows after the September 11 Benghazi attacks.
Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) met with the ambassador Tuesday morning after Rice requested a meeting.
McCain, who has led the charge against a possible nomination of Rice to be the next secretary of state, again criticized the ambassador for what she said following the Benghazi attacks.
“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers we got and some that we didn’t get concerning evidence that was overwhelming leading up to the attack on our consulate,” McCain said. “It is clear that the information that she gave the American people was incorrect when she said it was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video. It was not and there was compelling evidence at the time that it was certainly not the case.”
It was not clear which questions had gone unanswered and which had not.
McCain, Graham and Ayotte have been some of Rice’s harshest critics in recent weeks, contending she misled the American public by calling the Benghazi attacks a spontaneous protest rather than a pre-planned terrorist attack, as later intelligence showed.
Rice has said her remarks were based on the “information provided by the intelligence community” that was available at the time.
“I am more troubled today having met with the acting director of the CIA and Ambassador Rice because 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,” Ayotte said. “And clearly the impression that was given, the information given to the American people was wrong. In fact, Ambassador Rice said today absolutely it was wrong.”
Unlike the senators, Rice called the meeting “constructive,” and reiterated her earlier statement she had spoken based on provided talking points.
“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 in a statement. ” 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.”
Graham compared Rice’s critics to Democrats who opposed John Bolton’s nomination for U.N. Ambassador in 2005.
“Democrats dug in their heels saying ‘We’re not going to vote, we’re not going to consider this nomination until we get basic answers to our concerns,” Graham said Tuesday.” The concerns I have are greater today than they were before and we’re not even close to getting the basic answers.”
President Bush named Bolton to the job as a recess appointment after Democrats and one Republican opposed his confirmation.
None of the senators said they would support a Rice appointment to replace Hillary Clinton unless she is able to able to answer their questions.
Graham labeled Rice’s account of the Benghazi attack on the September 16 Sunday shows “disconnected from reality.” “This was an al-Qaeda storm in the making,” Graham said Tuesday. “My belief is, not only was the information bad, it was unjustified to give the scenario as presented by Ambassador Rice and President Obama three weeks before an election.”
Rice is expected to also meet with Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), the top Republican on Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, as well as Sen. Bob Corker, on Wednesday.