U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice’s account of a deadly attack on the American consulate in Libya reflected the CIA’s best information at the time, two Democrats on the House intelligence committee said.
Acting CIA Director Michael Morell told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing yesterday that Rice’s televised account, five days after the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, was based on an early agency assessment that the episode stemmed from a spontaneous demonstration, according to the lawmakers, Representatives Adam Schiff and Charles “Dutch” Ruppersberger.
“For those who are claiming the UN ambassador had some different information, they’re either unfamiliar with the facts or willfully ignoring them,” Schiff of California told reporters.
Republicans have said Rice misled the public by saying on Sunday television talk shows that the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans developed from a demonstration against an anti-Islamic video that was “hijacked” by militants.
“If Ambassador Rice had nothing to do with the Benghazi cover-up, then why did the administration use her as a mouthpiece?” Representative Jeff Duncan, a South Carolina Republican, said at a hearing yesterday of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Retired General David H. Petraeus, who resigned last week as Central Intelligence Agency director after acknowledging an extramarital affair, will brief the House and Senate intelligence panels today in separate closed-door sessions. The CIA has started what officials call an exploratory probe of Petraeus’s conduct while he was the agency’s director.
“The opportunity to get his views I think is very important,” said California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic chairman of the Senate intelligence panel. She said Petraeus made a trip to Libya to investigate the attack.
Both intelligence committees were briefed yesterday by Morell and other administration officials.
Petraeus told Congress in a briefing soon after the attack that it was spontaneous, while calling that assessment preliminary, according to Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House intelligence panel.
Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said Sept. 28 that the intelligence community had revised its assessment “to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists.”
The State Department had never concluded the attack began as a protest over a video, according to two department officials who briefed reporters Oct. 9 on condition of anonymity. There were no protests at or near the Benghazi compound that day, they said.
The Senate committee watched a “composite” film yesterday that showed the attack taking place “in real time,” Feinstein said. The Defense Department has said a surveillance drone arrived over the consulate about 90 minutes after the attack began.
“It’s not hard to establish there was no demonstration, there was no crowd,” Blunt said. “When this started, it was an act of violence.”
Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House intelligence panel, said Rice “was given the same information we received from the administration through the intelligence community.”
Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have said they would oppose Rice’s potential nomination if President Barack Obama chooses her to replace the departing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has said he is “adamantly opposed and will do everything I can to keep her from getting confirmed.”
Obama rebuked McCain and Graham during a press conference on Nov. 14, saying Rice has done “exemplary work” and that “to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”
Duncan, the South Carolina lawmaker, is circulating a letter to be signed by colleagues and sent to Obama urging him not to nominate Rice.
“These unfair attacks on Susan Rice are simply wrong,” Representative Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, said at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. “She had to rely on the intelligence that was provided.”
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