Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham soften on Susan Rice attacks

6:27 AM, Nov 26, 2012   |    comments
Susan Rice
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(CBS NEWS) -- Two top Senate Republicans - who last week vowed to do everything in their power to block the potential nomination of Susan Rice as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's successor - are dialing back their language on the ambassador's role in the muddied aftermath of the September 11 attacks in Libya, which killed four Americans.

"Sure," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on "Fox News Sunday" when asked if he might change his mind about Rice, the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who reportedly is at the top of the short list for Clinton's post. "I'd give everyone the benefit of explaining their position and the actions that they took. I'd be glad to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with her."

Five days after what would come to be deemed an attack by extremists with "linkages" to al Qaeda, Rice appeared on "Face the Nation" and insisted the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was "spontaneous," prompted by an inflammatory anti-Muslim video that had led to protests in Egypt and elsewhere.

Rice, and her allies in the Obama administration and in Congress, argue she was merely repeating talking points given to her by the CIA and approved by the wider intelligence community, but on CBS News' "Face the Nation" last week, McCain called on Rice to "publicly [come] back on this show and [say] 'I was wrong - I gave the wrong information.'"

McCain said today many of his questions remain, such as "why did she say that al Qaeda has been decimated?" But, he added, "I'm sure that I'll have the opportunity to discuss this with her."

Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who last week during a press conference with McCain called Rice the "point person" of the inaccurate portrayal and "so disconnected to reality I don't trust her," said today on ABC's "This Week," "I blame the president above all others."

"When [Rice] comes over" as Secretary of State, Graham said, "if she does - there will be a lot of questions asked of her, about this event and others."

In recent response to her critics, Rice said she "relied solely and squarely" on preliminary information relayed to her by the CIA, and argued she "made clear that the information was preliminary, and that our investigations would give us the definitive answers." She said she found McCain's criticism in particular to be "unfounded" but added she looks forward to having the chance to discuss it with him.

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