The Cable

Corker: Rice would make a better DNC chair than Secretary of State

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the presumptive next Republican leader on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said today that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice is too political and not independent enough to be secretary of state.

"I've had warm relations with Susan Rice, and to me, if you look at what happened that day, I think she would be an outstanding head of the [Democratic National Committee]," Corker told The Cable in a short interview today, referring to Rice's Sept. 16 statements on the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

Corker said he will meet with Rice at the Capitol tomorrow. Today, Rice met with Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT). After their meetings, McCain, Graham, and Ayotte said they were not satisfied with Rice's answers regarding her Benghazi statements. Rice said in a statement afterwards that the intelligence community erred by originally saying there was a protest outside the U.S. mission that day, information Rice repeated on several talk shows.

Corker said the issue for him is not whether the intelligence community got it wrong, but the fact that Rice went along with the intelligence community's talking points without checking them independently against the classified information that was available to her at the time.

"She strikes me as someone who is always on message, someone who is always exactly parroting whatever it is the administration's position is. And I think most of us want someone who is more independent minded. And I think that's how she got herself in trouble that Sunday morning, by coming on and being the head of the DNC instead of really showing that independence - and that's of great concern to me," Corker said. "It's my understanding that she had access to the classified materials before she went on the air that morning. And it just fuels the perception that I have that she's far better for the administration as a political operative than she is as a secretary of state."

If chosen to replace Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) as the ranking Republican on SFRC, Corker's first major decision will be whether to mount a fight against the president's pending nominee for secretary of state. Rice is widely believed to be the front runner, although SFRC Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon are also rumored to be in contention. A nomination announcement could come as early as this week.

"I think all of us hold the secretary of state and secretary of the treasury to a different standard, meaning we want people who are very independent in those positions," Corker said, again referring to RIce. "We know that they are not going to publicly confront the people they are serving - we're talking about the president - but we want to know that we have people there that when they really have strong policy beliefs they are going to argue for those and try to put good policies in place for our country."

Unlike McCain, Graham, and Ayotte, who have pledged to oppose Rice if she is nominated, Corker said he hasn't made up his mind. But he is leaning against supporting Rice.

"I will give her a fair hearing, I always do. I don't make up my mind until I've heard everything," he said. "But I'm pretty skeptical."

The Cable

McCain: Rice admitted she was wrong on Benghazi

U.N. ambassador Susan Rice told senators she was wrong when she attributed the Benghazi attack to a spontaneous protest that was a reaction to an anti-Islam video on television on Sept. 16, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told The Cable.

Rice, however, immediately contradicted McCain's readout of the meeting and said that the intelligence community was wrong on one detail of the day's events: the notion that there was a protest outside the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

Rice met with McCain, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) in the Capitol this morning along with acting CIA Director Mike Morrell. McCain, in a short interview following the meeting, said that he was troubled by several of her answers. He also said that Rice clearly stated she was wrong when she made her original statements on the attack, and McCain called on Rice to repeat that admission publicly.

"It's one thing to tell me; it's something else to tell the American people," McCain said.

McCain said he was unhappy with several of Rice's answers on how the State Department handled the issue before, during, and after the attack.

"There are a number of issues, such as previous intelligence reports that the situation was unraveling," McCain said.

Rice's potential nomination to be secretary of state was not discussed in the meeting, but McCain said he was not ready to support a potential nomination.

"I certainly am not convinced," he said.

Speaking briefly with reporters at the Capitol after the meeting, both Graham and Ayotte said they too had several ongoing problems with Rice's accounting of events.

"I'm more convinced than ever that it was bad, it was unjustified, to give the scenario presented by Ambassador Rice and President Obama three weeks before an election," Graham said.

"I'm more troubled today, knowing ... having met with the acting director of the CIA and Ambassador Rice," Ayotte said, "because it's certainly clear from the beginning that we knew that those with ties to al Qaeda were involved in the attack on the embassy."

In a statement, Rice defended her Sept. 16 statements as based on the best intelligence available at the time but acknowledged that the information she gave was wrong in the sense that there was no protest outside the U.S. mission in Benghazi on Sept. 11 before the attack.

"While, we certainly wish that we had had perfect information just days after the terrorist attack, as is often the case, the intelligence assessment has evolved. We stressed that neither I nor anyone else in the Administration intended to mislead the American people at any stage in this process, and the Administration updated Congress and the American people as our assessments evolved," she said.

Rice will meet with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) later this afternoon.

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