A Capitol Hill meeting Tuesday between United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) did little to quell the Republicans’ criticism of Rice’s involvement in the White House’s handling of the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. diplomatic personnel in Benghazi, Libya.
“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got and some that we didn’t get,” McCain told reporters after the hour-long meeting.
Graham and Ayotte also doubled down on their criticism, saying that the confab had raised additional questions about the statements Rice made on political talk shows in the weeks following the attacks.
“I’m more disturbed now than I was before,”Graham said. “I think it does not do justice to the reality at the time and in hindsight clearly was completely wrong.”
Graham added that he was “more convinced than ever” that Rice gave “bad information” to the American public.
“The information given to the American people was wrong,” Ayotte said. “In fact, Amb. Rice said today that absolutely it was wrong.”
The renewed criticism comes as Rice emerges as the frontrunner to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Rice requested today’s meeting with the senators, in what appears to have been an attempt to assuage her Senate critics.
But if Rice was looking to head off a bitter confirmation battle, she didn’t get very far. Asked by reporters whether she would still plan to block Rice’s nomination if she is selected to replace Clinton, Ayotte said that she is “more troubled today” than she was before the meeting.
UPDATE, 12:50 p.m.:
Rice issued a statement regarding Tuesday’s meeting:
Today, Acting CIA Director Michael Morell and I met with Senators McCain, Graham, and Ayotte to discuss my September 16th public comments regarding the attack against the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, and the intelligence assessments that formed the basis for those comments. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss these issues directly and constructively with them.
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. 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.
The Administration remains committed to working closely with Congress as we thoroughly investigate the terrorist attack in Benghazi and bring to justice the terrorists responsible for the tragic deaths of our colleagues, Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods. We also look forward to the findings of the Accountability Review Board and the FBI investigation.
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