Yet McCain has been leading a smear campaign against U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice for essentially making the same assessment two days later on the Sept. 16 Sunday talks shows. Making clear that a more thorough forthcoming investigation would provide better information for “definitive conclusions,” here’s what Rice said about the Benghazi attack on that day, from CBS’s Face the Nation:
SUSAN RICE: Based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy — sparked by this hateful video. But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that — in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.
McCain has since blasted Rice for making this assessment. Here’s what McCain said on CNN last month during the height of his smear campaign against the U.N. Ambassador:
MCCAIN: It was obvious within 24 hours that the station chief from the CIA had said this was a terrorist attack. It was obvious to one and all that this was not a “spontaneous demonstration” because in real time, they saw there was no demonstration. … Everybody knew that it was an al Qaeda attack, and she continued to tell the world through all of the talk shows that it was a “spontaneous demonstration” sparked by a video. That is not competence in my view
But McCain’s analysis of what occurred in Benghazi in the days after the attack on Sept. 14 mirrors Rice’s assessment during her Sept. 16 Sunday show appearances, saying that the attackers took advantage of a demonstration at the U.S. diplomatic mission:
MCCAIN: It’s hard to know exactly what took place and how long it was planned, and — I don’t have that information. I know very well that there were demonstrations, that there was a group of either al-Qaida or some radical Islamists who — about 15 of them, armed with RPGs and other lethal weapons, that seized this opportunity to attack our consulate. And it was an act of terror. It wasn’t an act of a mob getting out of control. We should understand that. This was a calculated act of terror on the part of a small group of jihadists, not a mob that somehow attacked and sacked our embassy.
So both McCain and Susan Rice believed at roughly the same point after the the Sept. 11 Benghazi attacks that the terrorists took advantage of a spontaneous demonstration against an anti-Islam video at the U.S. diplomatic mission there. And like Rice, McCain couldn’t say definitively if it was al Qaeda. When asked if it was al-Qaeda during his Sept. 14 press conference, McCain said, “It certainly was extremist elements. If it’s not al-Qaida, it’s certainly one of the affiliated organizations.”
As is now known, on Sept. 16, Rice was presenting the assessment of what happened in Benghazi that was given to her by the U.S. intelligence community and that assessment turned out to be inaccurate. CIA officials initially thought that al Qaeda was responsible for the attack, but intelligence officials agreed that a more general term of “extremists” would suffice in Rice’s talking points.
The Arizona Republican has also claimed that Rice should have changed her assessment because shortly before her appearance on Face the Nation, a top Libyan official “said that this was an al Qaeda attack.” But in fact, the official, Mohamed Yousef el-Magariaf, didn’t give a definitive assessment and said only “a few of them” were connected to the terror group, and that others were “affiliates and maybe sympathizers.” But even if el-Magariaf had been more sure, it would have been irresponsible for Rice to endorse and share a view she knew to be inconsistent with what U.S. intelligence officials had provided.