In a stunning admission – in response to a question posed Wednesday by reporter Major Garrett regarding whether the administration’s mishandling of Benghazi raises “core questions of basic competency” — The Weekly Standard reported that Press Secretary Jay Carney said President Barack Obama “is not particularly concerned” about whether or not Susan Rice misled the American people with her statements about the Sept. 11 attack that left Libyan Ambassador Christ Stevens and three other Americans dead.
What the president is worried about, Major, is what happened and why in Benghazi. He is not particularly concerned about whether the ambassador or I went out and talked about the fact that we believed extremists might have been responsible. And whether we named them as al Qaeda or not does not–no, it certainly doesn’t have any bearing on what happened and who was responsible as that investigation was continuing on Benghazi.
Considering Obama’s promise, that his administration would be “committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government” in order to “ensure the public trust,” to admit that the president “is not particularly concerned” that members of his administration may have mislead the American people seems rather contradictory.
Following their Tuesday meeting with Rice, her continued ambiguity regarding the Sept. 11 attack left John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire even more troubled.
“We are disturbed by the administration’s continued inability to answer even the most basic questions about the Benghazi attack and the administration’s response,” The New York Times quoted from the statement, issued by the senators after Tuesday’s meeting with Rice.
They each vowed to oppose Rice’s nomination.
Following her 75-minute meeting with Rice on Wednesday, Newsmax reported that moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins also said she could not support her for secretary of state without more information.
A particular point of concern for Collins was that Benghazi “echoed” the attacks on the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania 14 years ago.
“In both cases,” said Collins, “the ambassador begged for additional security,” and both requests were turned down by State.
I asked Ambassador Rice what her role was. She said that she would have to refresh her memory but that she was not involved directly in turning down the request. But surely, given her position as assistant secretary for African Affairs, she had to have been aware.
After his meeting with Rice on Wednesday – as reported by National Review — Bob Corker, a Republican senator from Tennessee, said Rice’s blind loyalty to the administration gave him the impression she is more suited to be head of the Democratic National Committee than to become the next United States secretary of state.
On Tuesday, Corker told The Cable that Rice is “too political and not independent enough to be secretary of state.”
With a not-so-subtle dig at current DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Corker added Wednesday that Rice strikes him another person who is “always exactly parroting whatever it is the administration’s position is.”
“Neither I nor anyone else in the administration intended to mislead the American people at any stage in the process,” Rice said in a statement following Tuesday’s meeting with the Republican senators.
During a heated exchange with CNN’s Piers Morgan on Oct. 10, Schultz also insisted that the many false statements made by the Obama administration in response to the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya were not “deliberate.”
The greatest concern among Republican senators is the conflict between statements made by Rice days after the attack and the information the administration acquired in as events unfolded.
As reported Monday by USA Today, “the Obama administration dispatched” Rice on Sept. 16 “to appear on five Sunday talk shows” — three days after the FBI had definitively confirmed that there was no spontaneous protest — where she “spread inaccurate and false” story that the attack was the result of a spontaneous protest regarding a video “to the American people and to the world.”
“Our current best assessment,” Rice told Jake Tapper in one of the five appearances, “based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous – not a premeditated – response to what had transpired in Cairo.”
But a handful of damning official emails obtained by Reuters also confirmed that both the White House and the State the Department knew within two hours of the onset that the attack was a premeditated effort carried out by extremist groups linked to al Qaeda.
In light of the indisputable evidence, Rice admitted to the senators Tuesday that her talk-show statements were inaccurate. But she excused herself of responsibility in pushing the administration’s false narrative by saying her remarks were based on available intelligence that changed over time.
Additionally, her excuse contradicts statements made by intelligence officials during a series of hearings that revealed the available intelligence “talking points” she was given by the White House were altered.
More specifically, all mention that the attack was a premeditated terrorist attack, were eliminated.
Then there are the conflicting statements made by acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Michael J. Morell, who accompanied Rice at Tuesday’s meeting with the Republican senators.
On Tuesday, Morell claimed the F.B.I. modified Rice’s talking points, by removing a specific reference to Al Qaeda.
However, during his Nov. 15 testimony at a closed-door hearing – as reported by Fox News — Morell denied having any knowledge of who changed the talking points.
Moreover – in a statement delivered after their meeting with Rice and Morell — McCain, Graham and Ayotte said that the C.I.A. called to notify them that Morell had erred, and that the agency had made the changes, not the bureau.
Only adding to the confusion, CIA Director David Petraeus testified on Nov. 16 that references to “Al Qaeda involvement” in the attack were stripped from the agency’s original talking points.
In a Nov. 19 report by CNS News, comments made by Democrat senator and chair of the Senate intelligence committee Diane Feinstein gave credence to the testimony of Petraeus –that the reference to Al Qaeda was included in his initial “talking points” — and eluded that the Al Qaeda reference was removed by the White House.
When asked on Meet the Press why Rice didn’t call the Benghazi attack an act of terrorism – when the CIA had called the attack an act of “terrorism” from the beginning — Feinstein said Rice “could speak publicly only on unclassified speaking points” because the administration was concern about naming a terrorist group “until we had some certainty.”
Additionally, Feinstein’s statement raises another question.
If Rice’s comments were choreographed to satisfy the administration’s concern for “certainty” — why did the White House send Rice on a mission to mislead Americans with the story that the attack was a “spontaneous” response to a video on five talk shows?
Moreover, after it had been clearly established that four Americans were killed in a premeditated terrorist attack, why did Obama personally further the false story by referencing the “crude and disgusting video” six times in his statements before the United Nations two weeks later?
Despite her many missteps, regardless of the growing questions being raised by the mounting string of conflicting explanations being offered by the administration and against the increasing Republican opposition, Obama appeared resolved to nominate Rice as Hillary Clinton’s successor as secretary of state.
“Susan Rice is extraordinary,” The Weekly Standard quoted Obama saying at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting. “Couldn’t be prouder of the job she’s done.”
“As I said before,” Obama said Nov. 14 in response to Republican concerns about the inconsistencies of Rice’s statements on Benghazi, “she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her.”
If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me.
Considering the mounting evidence that his administration “provided” Rice with grossly inaccurate “intelligence,” perhaps it’s time to take the president up on his challenge.