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GOP senators criticize Susan Rice after meeting on Benghazi attack

November 27, 2012|By Paul Richter
  • Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), speak on Capitol Hill following a meeting with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Sen. Lindsey… (Susan Walsh / Associated…)

WASHINGTON -- Three Republican senators said they were unsatisfied by the answers provided by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice after a fence-mending meeting on her disputed role after the terrorist attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans in Benghazi.

After a one-hour meeting with Rice and acting CIA Director Michael Morrell, Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire each said they had more questions about how Rice came to characterize the Sept. 11 attack as a reaction to a U.S.-made film denigrating Islam. U.S. officials now say militants planned and carried out the attack.

"I'm more disturbed now than I was before," Graham said.

Rice is thought to be President Obama's leading choice to become the next secretary of State, and the meeting appeared to be an attempt to clear the way for a smooth Senate confirmation hearing. But the senators' comments signaled that the choice could spark a contentious confirmation, even though the White House is likely to eventually prevail.

PHOTOS: U.S. ambassador killed in Libya

Administration officials say that before appearing on Sunday TV talks shows Sept. 16, Rice was given unclassified talking points on the Libya attack by U.S. intelligence officials. They say that though she was assigned to speak publicly on the issue, she was a bit player in the events.

The senators argued that Rice, by pressing further, could have uncovered that there was already evidence that the attack had been preplanned by militants.

"With a little inquiry and curiosity ... it would have pretty been pretty clear that [the talking points were] far afield," said Graham. "We're going to get to the bottom of this."

But though the senators signaled their intentions to further challenge Rice's statements, none suggested they would vote against her. Democrats have a strong advantage in any confirmation fight because they would need to pick up only five GOP votes to block a filibuster.

Administration officials say the first Cabinet nominations for Obama's second term could come as soon as this week.

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paul.richter@latimes.com

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