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Ayotte not backing down from criticism of Rice


Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, one of the leading critics of Ambassador Susan Rice, told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell in an interview on Wednesday that she would put a hold on her potential nomination to become secretary of state.

After Ayotte, accompanied by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham met with Rice in a closed-door meeting Tuesday, she told the press she was “more troubled” than before. The New Hampshire senator still has lingering questions about the Benghazi attack on September 11 and Rice’s erroneous talking points she used during TV interviews about the incident days later.

“First of all I think there was an impression left that somehow she just went on and repeated the unclassified talking points,” Ayotte said.  “Bear in mind, that’s not the case. She did review daily intelligence briefings as part of her position in the U.N. and in fact reviewed the briefings that contained the references to al-Qaida, that individuals with ties to al-Qaida were involved and then went on the Sunday shows and left a very different impression.”

However, Ayotte doesn’t completely blame Rice for the missteps. She also cast blame with the CIA.

Ayotte said during the interview that by Sept. 21, the acting director of the CIA “said the information about the reaction to the video and the protests were wrong and that no one corrected it, including Ambassador Rice.”

When asked whether the constant criticism was weakening Rice’s role as ambassador, Ayotte said those “issues would be decided on their own.”

“The administration floated her name for this incredibly important position,” she said. “It was the White House that asked her to go on every single Sunday show, where she made those misrepresentations. And, also, they knew by the 22nd what she said was wrong,  and no one came forward and corrected it. I think these are important questions to ask, but let’s not forget who offered her name out there for the important position of secretary of state.”

Ayotte also pointed to Sen. Susan Collins comments about Rice role’s in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa.

“These are questions that should be answered as well,” Ayotte said.

Ayotte also downplayed questions of sexism and racism being the cause of the harsh criticism surrounding Rice, saying those claims are “absolutely false.”

She also disputed the idea that the GOP was leading the crusade to block Rice because it wants Sen. John Kerry picked for the position instead so the party can make a grab for another Senate seat.

“We’re looking purely at her qualifications and also at the actions that she took," Ayotte said. "I think that’s our responsibility as senators and what we should be doing.”