GOP senators criticize Susan Rice after meeting

12:01 PM, Nov 27, 2012   |    comments
Susan Rice
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WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- After meeting with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on Tuesday, three GOP lawmakers say their concerns have only grown about misleading statements the diplomat made about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya that left the ambassador and three other Americans dead.

Rice's meeting with Sens. John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Kelly Ayotte on Capitol Hill came as the White House has signaled it may nominate Rice to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of State.

McCain, R-Ariz., has said he may oppose her nomination because she should have known her statements on the Sept. 11 attack were false.

Rice said in a round of interviews days after the deadly incident that the attack may have emerged from a protest outside the consulate in response to an anti-Islam video produced in the USA. It was later learned there was no protest, and the attack was a well-organized terror plot likely timed for the anniversary of Sept. 11.

"The information she gave the American people was incorrect when she said that it was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video," McCain told reporters after the meeting with Rice.

"The bottom line is that I'm more disturbed than I was before ... about how four Americans died in Benghazi, Libya," Graham said.

President Obama has defended Rice, who rose up through Democratic circles to advise presidential candidates on international issues. Under President Clinton, she weighed in on key foreign policy decisions, some of which remain controversial.

White House spokesman Jay Carney wouldn't say Monday whether the president will nominate Rice, but suggested that if he did, she would be a good candidate. Sen. John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, may also be in the running for the job, analysts say.

"Ambassador Rice has done an excellent job at the United Nations and is highly qualified for any number of positions," Carney said.

Former CIA director David Petraeus told lawmakers in a closed-door session earlier this month that that the CIA's draft talking points written in response to the assault had referred to it as a terrorist attack. But he also said the reference was removed from the final version -- although he wasn't sure which federal agency deleted it.

However, Rice appeared on several Sunday talk shows on Sept. 16 and insisted the attack was prompted by the video. She recently said she was only relating the intelligence information she was handed by the White House, and Obama defended Rice, saying it was not her fault.

But that explanation did not seem to wash with Graham.

"The American people got bad information of 16 September, they got bad information from President Obama days after," Graham said. "The question is: Should they have been giving the information at all....It's unjustified to give the scenario as presented by Ambassador Rice and President Obama three weeks before an election."

Petraeus testified that the CIA report he approved was apparently altered to downplay the terrorist angle.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA operations officer and now an analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, says Rice's performance after the Benghazi attack raises a red flag.

"These officials are supposed to assess these things for themselves," Gerecht said. "If you see a situation where a consulate safe house is being attacked by mortars and organized teams, that should tell you this was planned before that video came out."

Rice knew the narrative that would satisfy the White House, Gerecht said. Included in that narrative is that al-Qaeda is losing ground, public sentiments toward the United States are improving in the Middle East, and the attack was not connected to U.S. foreign policy. But she still would have had access numerous news reports that contradicted that narrative, he said.

"If you want to take the president's approach, then Susan Rice is shockingly guilty of being dumb," Gerecht said.

For Tuesday's meeting on Capitol Hill, Rice was accompanied by acting CIA Director Michael Morell. Graham and McCain would not say if they would block her potential nomination.

"I have many more questions that have to be answered," Ayotte said.

Rice, 48, was born in Washington, D.C., to scholar parents who were themselves involved in policy circles. Her father, Emmett Rice, was the second black governor of the Federal Reserve System; her mother, Lois Dickson Fitt, is an education expert at the Brookings Institution.

Rice received a degree in history at Stanford University in 1986 and attended Oxford before becoming a foreign policy aide to former Democratic Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis during his 1988 presidential run against George H.W. Bush.

After his unsuccessful campaign, Rice became a consultant at McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm.

In 1993 she joined the administration of President Clinton, serving at the National Security Council. She held various positions, including director for International Organizations and Peacekeeping, special assistant to the president and senior director for African Affairs.

She was a policy adviser during the genocide in Rwanda and also at a time when the Clinton administration was determining how to handle the emergence of al-Qaeda as a terror threat.

Clinton and his foreign policy staff were criticized for failing to intervene in a serious way to stop the 1994 genocide in which more than 500,000 people were killed, a decision that Clinton would say was the worst mistake of his presidency.

Clinton's foreign policy staff had to fend off criticism it failed to do more to nab al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden prior to Sept. 11, 2001. According to former ambassador to Sudan,Timothy Carney, when the Sudan offered to help the United States capture bin Laden, Rice and counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke advised against it. Later, the 9-11 Commission said no credible evidence existed that Sudan would have made good on its offer.

Following the election of Republican George W. Bush, Rice joined Brookings in 2002 as a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy and Global Economy and Development program, where she offered analyses on failing states and global hunger.

In 2004 she served as an adviser to the presidential campaign of John Kerry. In 2008 she was asked to advise then Sen. Barack Obama on foreign policy matters.

In January 2009, Rice was confirmed President Obama's permanent representative to the United Nations.

Rice is married to ABC News producer Ian Cameron. They have two children.

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