The presumptive new GOP leader on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said today he was still upset that U.N. ambassador Susan Rice made statements attributing the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi to a spontaneous reaction to a video on Sept. 16, considering the "real-time" evidence that was available.
At 3:00 p.m. today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to kick off a week that will include several closed hearings on the Benghazi attack. The House Foreign Affairs Committee will follow suit Thursday morning and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will hold its own closed hearing with top administration officials Thursday afternoon. Corker, walking into Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office this morning, said he was still concerned about Rice's comments and her defense of them afterward.
"How could we, knowing that our intelligence officials in Libya in real time while the event was taking place were letting our folks know back here that this was a terrorist attack -- it's beyond me that we would be out publicly talking about the event in that way," Corker said. "It's beyond belief."
Rice has explained that her comments were based on the intelligence community assessment at the time, but Corker said that is contradicted by the acknowledgment of senior officials that there was real-time reporting during the attack that clearly identified it as a terrorist attack, with no protest beforehand.
Corker declined to say whether or not Rice would have a hard time making it through the Senate confirmation process if she is nominated to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Rice's potential nomination could be the first major issue Corker tackles as SFRC ranking Republican next year, and he would have to decide whether to mount a challenge to Obama's pick.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has repeatedly tied Rice's Sept. 16 comments to her confirmation prospects.
"Susan Rice would have an incredibly difficult time getting through the Senate. I would not vote for her unless there's a tremendous opening up of information explaining herself in a way she has not yet done," Graham said Nov. 11.
SFRC Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) will be chairing today's closed hearing on the Benghazi incident and is also said to be in consideration for secretary of state, or as the Washington Post reported Monday, for secretary of defense. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), chairman of the subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian affairs, told The Cable today he doesn't expect the hearing to answer all of the outstanding questions about the Benghazi attack.
"I want to find out the basics on how this happened and what we can do to prevent it from happening in the future," Casey said.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.