97 House Republicans sign letter questioning ambassador's credibility
Critics say Rice made misleading remarks after attack on embassy in Libya
Administration says Rice was only repeating talking points cleared by intel community
Republicans this week increased pressure on President Barack Obama to drop any thought of nominating U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice as secretary of state.
In a letter to Obama, 97 House Republicans questioned Rice’s credibility “at home and around the world” after her “misleading” public statements about the origin of the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Written and circulated by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-South Carolina), Monday’s letter was the latest in a barrage of Republican criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of the Benghazi situation before and after the attack.
Critics have aggressively focused on Rice’s comments on television talk shows five days after the armed assault. Rice said a small number of people came to the mission in a spontaneous reaction to demonstrations occurring in Egypt over the anti-Muslim film, but the Benghazi protest was hijacked by armed extremists.
Senior administration officials later said Rice was speaking from talking points prepared for official use, and said the word “spontaneous” was a poor choice to describe what is now understood to have been a terrorist attack. Killed in the assault were Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Rice never mentioned terrorists.
“Ambassador Rice propagated a falsehood that the attacks were ‘spontaneous,’” the congressional letter said, and she “is widely viewed as having either willfully or incompetently misled the American public in the Benghazi matter.”
The letter said Rice’s actions “plausibly give” U.S. allies and rivals a reason to question American commitment and credibility.
“Thus, we believe that making her the face of U.S. foreign policy in your second term would greatly undermine your desire to improve U.S. relations with the world and continue to build trust with the American people,” the letter said.
Rice is thought to be on the president’s short list of nominees to succeed Hillary Clinton as America’s top diplomat. Clinton said she plans to leave after Obama is sworn in for a second term in January and her successor is in place.
On Monday, the spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the intelligence community was responsible for substantive changes made to the talking points distributed for government officials to use to talk publicly about the attack.
Rep. Peter King, R-New York, told reporters after a hearing last week that original unclassified talking points were “much more specific about al Qaeda involvement” with the final draft just saying there were “indications of extremists.”
The Republican-led House Intelligence Committee said it wanted to “discuss this new explanation” with James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, as soon as possible.
Some Republican members of Congress have suggested the changes came from within the Obama administration – from the White House, the Justice Department or another government agency.
Sen. John McCain, a harsh critic of the administration on Benghazi and of Rice’s comments about it, said in a statement on Tuesday about changes to the talking points that questions remain unanswered.
“But this latest episode is another reason why many of us are so frustrated with, and suspicious of, the actions of this administration when it comes to the Benghazi attack,” McCain said.
Obama called out McCain and fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham last week for their “outrageous” comments that they would block any nomination of Rice for secretary of state.
“If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after someone, they should go after me,” Obama said at a news conference.
Nominations to top government positions require Senate confirmation.