GOP senators still critical after Rice meeting
WASHINGTON -- UN Ambassador Susan Rice said Tuesday that her initial explanation of the deadly Sept. 11 raid in Libya was wrong, but that concession failed to mollify three Republican senators who signaled they would still oppose her possible nomination as secretary of state.
In a closed-door meeting that Rice requested, Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte focused on her much-maligned explanations of the cause of the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. She was joined by acting CIA Director Michael Morell.
"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 after the meeting.
"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," she said.
Rice's unusual visit to Capitol Hill -- typically only nominees meet privately with lawmakers -- reflects the Obama administration's campaign for her as the current front-runner to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton, against some strenuous GOP opposition.
"We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got and some that we didn't get concerning evidence that was leading up to the attack on the consulate," McCain, of Arizona, told reporters after emerging from the hour-plus session, which he described as candid.
Said Graham: "Bottom line, I'm more disturbed now than I was before that 16 September explanation." The South Carolina senator said in a later interview that Rice went "far beyond the flawed talking points" about the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi and should be held accountable.
"I'm more troubled today," echoed Ayotte, of New Hampshire. She argued that it was clear in the days after the attack that it was an act of terrorism and not a spontaneous demonstration prompted by an anti-Muslim video.
The White House remained defiant in its support for Rice. Officials have said repeatedly that she was relying on an assessment from the intelligence community and had no responsibility in compiling the information on the cause of the attack.