The Cable

Top administration officials brief Congress secretly on Benghazi

The House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees may or may not hear from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in open session Dec. 20 on Benghazi, but yesterday they heard from six other top U.S. officials in secret and behind closed doors.

Senators who attended the briefing include Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), presumptive ranking Republican Bob Corker (R-TN), among others. The senators were shown a video of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, according to a spokesperson for Kerry. That video had been shown to other committees previously. The meeting was classified at the Top Secret level.

The officials at the briefing were Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Matthew Olsen, Maj. Gen. Darryl Roberson, vice director for operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict Gary Reid, and Jenny Ley, deputy assistant director at the FBI.

The hearing came on the same day that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice took herself out of the running to replace Clinton, while sticking to her guns on her Sept. 16 statements on the Benghazi attack, in which she referred to intelligence community talking points that said the attack was a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islam video, based on the available information at the time.

"When discussing Benghazi, I relied on fully cleared, unclassified points provided by the intelligence community, which encapsulated their best current assessment. These unclassified points were consistent with the classified assessments I received as a senior policymaker," Rice wrote in Friday's Washington Post. "It would have been irresponsible for me to substitute any personal judgment for our government's and wrong to reveal classified material. I made clear in each interview that the information I was providing was preliminary and that ongoing investigations would give us definitive answers."

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who would like to join the SRFC next year, said through a spokesman Thursday that his concerns about the Benghazi attack remain despite Rice's withdrawal.

"Senator McCain thanks Ambassador Rice for her service to the country and wishes her well. He will continue to seek all the facts about what happened before, during and after the attack on our consulate in Benghazi that killed four brave Americans," McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) issued similar statements.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) issued a statement Thursday criticizing McCain, Graham, and Ayotte for their campaign to scuttle the Rice nomination.

"The politically-motivated attacks on her character from some of my Republican colleagues were shameful," Reid said. "Their behavior was a disgrace to the Senate's tradition of bipartisan cooperation on national security issues, and beneath the stature of senators with otherwise distinguished records on national security. I hope that moving forward, senators will act based on fact-finding and serving the public interest, not advancing partisan political agendas or settling old scores."

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