Nuland Quizzed on Benghazi Stance in Senate Hearing

Former State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland faced Republican criticism of her role in shaping the Obama administration’s initial explanation of the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, as she sought confirmation for a top policy job.

Nuland, nominated by President Barack Obama to be assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday that she sought changes in a draft by the CIA that was “inappropriately crafted” and misleading.

Republicans used the nomination hearing to renew their questions about initial administration comments saying erroneously that the attack on Sept. 11, 2012, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans grew out of a “spontaneous demonstration.”

“I’m concerned about your willingness to provide truthful and relevant information to the American people,” Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming told Nuland.

No senator expressed reservations about Nuland’s nomination for the post overseeing Europe and Eurasia policy, and the 29-year veteran of the Foreign Service may be aided in winning confirmation by a resume with bipartisan credentials.

Before serving under Obama at the State Department, she was a deputy national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney during the George W. Bush administration. Her husband, Robert Kagan, was an adviser to the Republican presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and John McCain.

‘Never Edited’

Nuland said she played only a limited role in the review of the Benghazi explanation and never discussed it with Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state, or Susan Rice, who was ambassador to the United Nations and who delivered the talking points on Sunday talk shows five days after the attack.

“I never edited these talking points, I never made changes,” Nuland said. She said she was concerned that the Central Intelligence Agency draft -- which said that agency had repeatedly warned the State Department of terrorist threats in Benghazi -- had offered a “mistaken and flawed perception.”

“My concern was they were inappropriately crafted as points for the media and they would be misleading,” Nuland said. “What mattered most was a full and fair investigation.”

Nuland also made clear that there was concern in the State Department over confusion because the U.S. presence in Benghazi also included what had been a secret CIA annex.

Checking Instincts

“I had to be extremely attentive to the equities of other government agencies,” Nuland said. “I simply asked policy people above me to check my instincts.”

Nuland’s role became public in May with the administration’s disclosure of e-mails on the talking points. In one of them, Nuland said that mention of the CIA warnings “could be abused by members” of Congress “to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that?”

The passage that she challenged eventually was deleted.

Republicans such as McCain, an Arizona senator, have said the administration was eager last year to downplay any fresh hint of terrorism as Obama sought re-election.

“You were a little more concerned about the State Department getting beaten up by members of Congress,” Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson told Nuland yesterday.

“My concern was this was not an accurate representation of the full picture,” she replied.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican viewed as a potential presidential candidate, praised Nuland’s qualifications for the job and all but apologized for focusing most of his time on Benghazi, saying, “You’re quite frankly the only witness we have.”

Barrasso said Republicans on the committee have sought additional hearings on Benghazi and have received no response from the Democratic chairman, Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, in two months. Menendez didn’t attend yesterday’s hearing.

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