Emerging from talks with U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, Senate Republicans have a new line of attack on Libya: if it was unclear what happened in Benghazi, why say anything at all in the aftermath?
The newest salvo comes from Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) after a very short-lived detente with the Obama administration on the response to the Sept. 11 assault in Libya.
The three met with Rice behind closed doors on Capitol Hill today and emerged with a new attack campaign, declaring that they only had “more questions” about what the administration knew and when.
“The American people got bad information on Sept. 16,” Graham said during a press conference today, referring to Rice’s Sept. 16 appearances on the Sunday talk shows. “And the question is ‘Should they have been giving information at all?’ If you can give nothing but bad information, isn’t it better to give no information?”
Rather than acknowledging that the intelligence community had vetted and aided in the drafting of Rice’s unclassified talking points that day, the senators in the post-meeting press conference instead chose to fault Rice for not only failing to be more critical of the assessment she was given but for not potentially revealing classified information:
AYOTTE: What troubles me also, the changes made to the unclassified talking points were misleading. But just to be clear, when you have a position where you’re Ambassador to the United Nations, you go well beyond unclassified talking points in your daily preparation and responsibilities for that job. And that’s troubling to me as well, why she wouldn’t have asked “I’m the person that doesn’t know about this, I’m going on every single show?” But in addition, it’s not just the talking points that were unclassified, but clearly it was part of her responsibility as Ambassador to the United Nations to review much more than that.
Ayotte’s determination echoes a growing belief among the right-wing that Rice should have “known better” than to take the talking points provided by the intelligence community at face value or that she should have divulged material that was classified at the time to the American people.
But this brand-new determination that Rice should have strayed from the talking points given to her on Sept. 16 has already spread among the GOP. Senate Minority Whip John Kyl (R-AZ) called Rice a “puppet” of the administration in an interview with National Review Online:
“Is she such a puppet that she had no questions about the information she was given?” Kyl asks, in an interview at Newseum, where he is participating in the Foreign Policy Initiative’s annual forum. “What she said was deceptive, misleading, and wrong.”
However, during the five interviews she gave on Sept. 16, Rice consistently made clear that what was being presented were only initial conclusions and could still change. While the facts continue to exonerate Rice and the Obama administration on this issue, in the face of continual shouting by conservatives that a conspiracy of some sort took place surrounding Benghazi, the majority of Americans believe that’s not the case.
Ambassador Rice has issued a statement on her meeting with the Senators:
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.