Not letting up on the GOP attack on Ambassador Susan Rice, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) today wondered on MSNBC why Rice did not augment the unclassified talking points provided to her on the Benghazi attacks with classified information to which she had access.
Speaking with MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell, Ayotte pointed out that Rice had reviewed classified intelligence related to the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya which contained previously unreleased information. This access, in Ayotte’s opinion, should have been disclosed on live television during Rice’s now infamous Sunday news show appearances on Sept. 16:
AYOTTE: That’s one of the questions I have, and one of the questions that didn’t feel I get a satisfactory answer to. Which is if you knew that even though the classified version obviously had references to Al Qaeda in it — being involved or individuals with ties to Al Qaeda involved in it — then how could not know that when you go on every Sunday show and not include that fact that it would leave a very different impression to the American people. Particularly on two of those networks where she also said in an answer to another question that Al Qaeda had been decimated.
Watch Ayotte’s full statements here:
Counter to Ayotte’s accusations, had Rice revealed classified information during her Sept. 16 interviews she would be in much more of a position to be scolded by the Republican Party. Leaking classified information is punishable by law, and while she does have a high-level clearance, Rice is not in a position to arbitrarily declassify the items that she has the ability to access. “If Rice had gone beyond her unclassified talking points,” CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen noted today, “[there's] no doubt she would now be being hounded for the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.”
Ayotte also focused on Rice’s statement that “al Qaeda is decimated,” implying that Rice was attempting to frame the Benghazi issue in a favorable political light in line with President Obama’s re-election efforts. Rice has since said that she regrets her choice of words, saying to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) that she would have instead emphasized that al Qaeda’s leadership had been vastly weakened, a status that independent analysts agree with.
Rice, who has not yet been nominated but is considered the front runner to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, has been taking meetings on the Hill for the past two days. With some of those face-to-face talks, she has managed to convince several GOP Senators to not preemptively block her potential nomination, including Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Corker (R-TN) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA). Democrats would need at least five Republicans to break a filibuster of Rice in the Senate.