Select Committee on Intelligence chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)… (Alex Wong / Getty Images )
Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Sunday that she has initiated a review of talking points used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on the attack on the American diplomatic facility in Libya, with the goal of determining why the public comments appeared to conflict with the initial assessment of U.S. intelligence sources.
Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, defended Rice against what she called the “politicization” of her comments on the battery of Sunday news shows in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack that led to the death of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
But the California senator also said she had “some concern” with the process that produced the unclassified “speaking points” that Rice worked off of, in which she said it was the administration’s preliminary view that the attacks were a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islamic video, rather than a planned terrorist attack.
Feinstein, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said that the now-former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David H. Petraeus, had “very clearly said that it was a terrorist attack” in a meeting with lawmakers the day after the attack in Benghazi.
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Asked then why Rice would not call the attack "terrorism" days later, Feinstein said it was because Petraeus’ view was based on information that was not yet cleared for public review.
“She could speak publicly only on unclassified speaking points. I have some concern with those speaking points,” Feinstein said. “We gave the direction yesterday that this whole process is going to be checked out. We are going to find out who made changes in the original statement. Until we do, I really think it's unwarranted to make accusations.”
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, stopped short of saying information was withheld from initial talking points for political reasons.
Still, he said, “I know the narrative was wrong, and the intelligence was right.”
“The narrative, as it went from at least the CIA and other intelligence agencies, was accurate,” he said. “There were some policy decisions made based on the narrative that was not consistent with the intelligence that we had. That's my concern, and we need to say hey, we need to figure out how that happened.”
The episode involving Rice’s testimony on the Sept. 14 news shows is at the heart of Republicans’ questioning the administration’s handling of the Benghazi attack. More recently, it has become the basis for some lawmakers vowing to block the potential nomination of Rice to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of State in President Obama’s second term.
Feinstein said it was not right for Rice to be “pilloried” for comments that were consistent with the approved statement she was given to speak off of. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) said that in considering a possible Rice nomination he was “not going to give her a plus for passing on a narrative that was misleading to the American people.”
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“I am very disappointed in Susan Rice … telling a story that was disconnected from reality that did make the president look good at a time when, quite frankly, the narrative should have been challenged not reinforced that Al Qaeda was dismantled,” he said.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said that before appearing on the television shows, Rice should have had a fuller understanding of events.
“She certainly could have gotten the classified briefings. She would have sat down with the National Security Council, and she would have known that those talking points had been watered down, and she could have caveated that in her statement, which she didn't,” King said on ABC’s “This Week.” “President Obama said, don't blame Susan Rice because she had nothing to do with Benghazi. Then why did they send her out as the representative to the American people?”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that Rice has “a lot of explaining to do,” and should explain her comments if she is nominated.
“They said they wanted to not give classified assessment of what happened because they didn’t want to betray sources. Well if the classified assessment changed the unclassified assessment, then why in the world would you keep that information from the American people,” McCain said.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said it would be “totally unfair” to hold Rice responsible for simply relaying information she was given. He also accused McCain and Graham of hypocrisy for using the incident to potentially block a Rice nomination.
“Eight years ago when President Bush suggested Condoleezza Rice for secretary of State, some people said, ‘Well wait a minute, wasn’t she part of misleading the American people about intelligence information that led to our invasion of Iraq?’ And it was Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham who stood up and said, ‘Don’t hold her accountable for the intelligence that was given to her,’” Durbin said.
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