Following a hearing with former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus Friday, Democratic senators defended U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for her initial statements that the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 were protests over an anti-Muslim video, rather than a terrorist attack, saying Rice was delivering the unclassified talking points provided to her at the time.
“What is very clear is that Ambassador Rice … used the unclassified talking points that were signed off on by the entire intelligence community,” said Sen. Kent Conrad. “So criticisms of her are completely unwarranted.”
That explanation was echoed by Sen. Bill Nelson and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the committee.
“I don’t think she should be pilloried for this,” Feinstein said.
Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss, vice chair of the committee, had a different take on Rice’s statements.
“There was no question in the mind of anybody that this was an act of terrorism from the get-go,” he said, asked if the CIA knew this was an act of terrorism in the first 24 hours following the attack. “You don’t have protesters coming to a protest or to demonstrate with AK-47S or other weapons including RPGs and mortars.”
“I did a press release on September the 12th saying this was an act of terrorism because that’s clearly what it was and everybody knew that,” Chambliss said, contradicting the idea that facts suggesting that were still classified at the time.
Asked why, if that were the case, Rice had stuck to the original talking points, Chambliss said there were “still issues about those talking points that are yet to be resolved.” (RELATED: Kirsten Powers calls Obama’s defense of Susan Rice ‘silly, sexist’ and ‘paternalistic’)
“But the problem with what Susan Rice said was not — if she had stuck with the talking points, were they correct? They were. She went beyond that, and she even mentioned that under the leadership of Barack Obama we had decimated al-Qaida, when she knew at that point in time that al-Qaida was very likely responsible in part or in whole for the death of Ambassador Stevens,” Chambliss said.
Sen. John McCain, also a member of the committee, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham, have decried Rice’s role in the aftermath of the affair and attacked the prospect of her nomination as secretary of state, a position for which she is reportedly being considered.
Feinstein said Republicans who are considering blocking Rice’s potential nomination are not playing fairly.
“I think it is making a very divisive fight. We have seen wrong intelligence before and it all surrounded our going into Iraq, and a lot of people were killed based on bad intelligence. And I don’t think that’s fair game,” Feinstein said.
“I think mistakes get made. You don’t pillory the person,” she said.
To say of Ambassador Rice that “because she used an unclassified talking point, to say that she is unqualified to be Secretary of State, I think is a mistake,” Feinstein went on. “And the way it keeps going it’s almost as if the attempt is to assassinate her character. And I really object to that.”
The meeting with Petraeus cleared up many things, Chambliss said, but said he still has some lingering questions.
“How did this group penetrate the facility that we had in Benghazi and who were these folks? We have a pretty good idea now, we’re getting closer to determining that. We know they were al-Qaida affiliates or al-Qaida itself, and we know that there had been training going on on the ground there, and it’s delving into more depth on issues like that we’ve gotta find out about,” Chambliss told reporters after the hearing.
Sen. Marco Rubio said though there were still more they had to learn, it had become clear in the meeting that “the security measures were not adequate despite an overwhelming and growing amount of information that showed that the area of Benghazi was dangerous and particularly the date of Sept. 11 was a critical date.”