U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice told Republican senators that her televised statements last month on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi were based entirely on information she was given by the intelligence community.
"In my Sept. 16 Sunday show appearances, I was asked to provide the administration's latest understanding of what happened in Benghazi," Rice wrote in a Thursday letter to Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). "In answering, I relied solely and squarely on the information the intelligence community provided to me and other senior U.S. officials, including through the daily intelligence briefings that present the latest reporting and analysis to policy makers. This information represented the intelligence community's best, current assessment as of the date of my television appearances, and I went out of my way to ensure it was consistent with the information that was being given to Congress."
Rice was responding to a Sept. 26 letter from the GOP senators in which they accused Rice of jumping the gun and disseminating false information about the attack. The letter quotes Rice's comments selectively, leaving out the context where she cautioned that the information was based on initial assessments. Rice emphasized in her response that she had caveated her remarks in her TV appearances.
She also pointed to a Sept. 28 statement from Shawn Turner, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, admitting that the intelligence community had changed its view of the attack.
"As the Intelligence Community collects and analyzes more information related to the attack, our understanding of the event continues to evolve," Turner said. "As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists."
For McCain, Johnson, Ayotte, and Graham, Rice's deflection of blame is not enough to absolve the administration of responsibility for mistakes before and after the attack. They also say they doubt the intelligence community's true views were what Rice and Turner claimed.
"Elements of the intelligence community apparently told the administration within hours of the attack that militants connected with al Qaeda were involved, yet Ambassador Rice claims her comments five days later reflected the 'best' and 'current' assessment of the intelligence community. Either the Obama administration is misleading Congress and the American people, or it is blaming the entire failure on the intelligence community," the senators said in a joint response to Rice's letter today.
"Ambassador Rice claims the administration launched a 'comprehensive' effort to determine what happened in Benghazi, but the administration failed to secure the scene of the terrorist attack for three weeks -- allowing evidence and sensitive information to be compromised and destroyed. From beginning to end, the administration's behavior in the wake of the attack indicates a breathtaking level of incompetence and suggests an intent to deliberately mislead Congress and the American people."
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John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.