Republicans say Rice must testify on Benghazi statements
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican U.S. lawmakers turned up the heat on Sunday on Susan Rice, saying the U.N. ambassador - seen as a possible nominee to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state - must testify before Congress on her remarks after the September attack that killed the American envoy to Libya. Two influential Senate Republicans, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, did not back down on Sunday from their vow made last week to oppose any attempt by President Barack Obama to put Rice into a Cabinet position that would require Senate confirmation. "She has a lot of explaining to do. ...
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) acknowledged on Wednesday that House Republicans had consciously voted to reduce the funds allocated to the State Department for embassy security since winning the majority in 2010.
On Wednesday morning, CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien asked the Utah Republican if he had "voted to cut the funding for embassy security."
"Absolutely," Chaffetz said. "Look we have to make priorities and choices in this country. We haveâ€¦15,000 contractors in Iraq. We have more than 6,000 contractors, a private army there, for President Obama, in Baghdad. And weâ€™re talking about can we get two dozen or so people into Libya to help protect our forces. When youâ€™re in tough economic times, you have to make difficult choices. You have to prioritize things.â€ť
For the past two years, House Republicans have continued to deprioritize the security forces protecting State Department personnel around the world. In fiscal year 2011, lawmakers shaved $128 million off of the administration's request for embassy security funding. House Republicans drained off even more funds in fiscal year 2012 -- cutting back on the department's request by $331 million.
Consulate personnel stationed in Benghazi had allegedly expressed concerns over their safety in the months leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks that killed four Americans, including Amb. Chris Stevens. Chaffetz and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, claim those concerns were ignored. More
"The stench of hypocrisy that hangs over this city today emanates from this room," Ackerman said. "I've listened to my colleagues talk about the President of the United States and others in the administration using [the] terms 'deliberate', 'lies', 'unmitigated gall', 'malfeasance,' which is malicious and knowing evil-doing, 'disgust', 'coverups'."
He continued, "If you want to know who is responsible in this town, buy yourself a mirror!"
Ackerman went on to say that Republicans had "the audacity to come here" when the administration requested, for worldwide security, "$440 million more than you guys wanted to provide. And the answer is that you damn didn't provide it! You REDUCED what the administration asked for to protect these people. Ask not who the guilty party is, it's you! It is us. It is this committee, and the things that we insist that we need have to cost money."
He added, "Could you tell me which of my colleagues on this committee was as bodacious in their insistence that we provide more money for American security in the State Department budget. I would appreciate it."
Ackerman then asked them to raise their hands and gave them a count of five to do so. None did.
Emphasis added by source
Q: Did he say why it was taken out of the talking points that [the attack] was Al Qaeda affiliated?
KING: He didnâ€™t know.
Q: He didnâ€™t know? What do you mean he didnâ€™t know?
KING: They were not involved â€” it was done, the process was completed and they said, â€śOk go with those talking points.â€ť Again itâ€™s interagency â€” I got the impression that 7, 8, 9 different agencies.
Q: Did he give you the impression that he was upset it was taken out?
Q: You said the CIA said â€śOKâ€ť to the revised report â€“
KING: No, well, they said in that, after it goes through the process, they OKâ€™d it to go. Yeah, they said â€śOkay for it to go.â€ť
Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser, told reporters travelling with the president to Asia that any substantive edits to the talking points would have come from intelligence agencies themselves. The only change the White House made, he said, was to correct a reference to the facility in Benghazi as a "diplomatic facility," instead of a "consulate."
"Other than that we were guided by the points that were provided by the intelligence community. So I can't speak to any other edits that may have been made," he said.
Even in a town that rewards sharp elbows and brusque personalities, Rice has managed to make an impressive array of enemies. Particularly in comparison to the other person often mentioned for the job, Sen. John Kerry, she can be a most undiplomatic diplomat, and there likely arenâ€™t enough Republican or Democratic votes in the Senate to confirm her.
Back when she was an assistant secretary of state during the Clinton administration, she appalled colleagues by flipping her middle finger at Richard Holbrooke during a meeting with senior staff at the State Department, according to witnesses. Colleagues talk of shouting matches and insults.
Among those she has insulted is the woman she would replace at State. Rice was one of the first former Clinton administration officials to defect to Obamaâ€™s primary campaign against Hillary. Rice condemned Clintonâ€™s Iraq and Iran positions, asking for an â€śexplanation of how and why she got those critical judgments wrong.â€ť
Riceâ€™s putdown of Clinton was tame compared to her portrayal of McCain during 2008, which no doubt contributes to McCainâ€™s hostility toward her today. She mocked McCainâ€™s trip to Iraq (â€śstrolling around the market in a flak jacketâ€ť), called his policies â€śrecklessâ€ť and said â€śhis tendency is to shoot first and ask questions later. Itâ€™s dangerous.â€ť
It was Riceâ€™s own shoot-first tendency that caused her to be benched as a spokesman for the Obama campaign for a time in 2008. She unnerved European allies when she denounced as â€ścounterproductiveâ€ť and â€śself-defeatingâ€ť the U.N. policy that Iran suspend its nuclear program before talks can begin. She criticized President George W. Bush and McCain because they â€śinsistedâ€ť on it. But as the Washington Post pointed out at the time, European diplomats were rattled by such remarks, because the precondition was their idea.
Riceâ€™s pugilism provoked an attempt by the Russians to weigh in last week in opposition to Rice as secretary of state. The Russian business daily Kommersant quoted an anonymous Russian foreign ministry official saying Rice, who quarreled with Russia over Syria, is â€śtoo ambitious and aggressive,â€ť and her appointment would make it â€śmore difficult for Moscow to work with Washington.â€ť
Compared to this, the flap over Libya is relatively minor â€” but revealing. Itâ€™s true that in her much-criticized TV performance she was reciting talking points given to her by the intelligence agencies. But thatâ€™s the trouble. Rice stuck with her points even though they had been contradicted by the president of the Libyan national assembly, who, appearing on CBSâ€™ â€śFace the Nationâ€ť just before Rice, said there was â€śno doubtâ€ť that the attack on Americans in Benghazi â€śwas preplanned.â€ť
Quote:Mr. Petraeus, who resigned last week after admitting to an extramarital affair, said the names of groups suspected in the attack â€” including Al Qaedaâ€™s franchise in North Africa and a local Libyan group, Ansar al-Shariah â€” were removed from the public explanation of the attack immediately after the assault to avoiding alerting the militants that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies were tracking them, lawmakers said.
After the hearings on Friday, administration officials disputed the notion that politics or other motives caused the changes.
â€śThe points were not, as has been insinuated by some, edited to minimize the role of extremists, diminish terrorist affiliations, or play down that this was an attack,â€ť said a senior official familiar with the drafting of the talking points. â€śThere were legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly.â€ť
Some intelligence analysts worried, for instance, that identifying the groups could reveal that American spy services were eavesdropping on the militants â€” a fact most insurgents are already aware of. Justice Department lawyers expressed concern about jeopardizing the F.B.I.â€™s criminal inquiry in the attacks. Other officials voiced concern that making the names public, at least right away, would create a circular reporting loop and hamper efforts to trail the militants.
Democrats said Mr. Petraeus made it clear the change had not been done for political reasons to aid Mr. Obama. â€śThe general was adamant there was no politicization of the process, no White House interference or political agenda,â€ť said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California.
Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, said that Mr. Petraeus explained to lawmakers that the final document was put in front of all the senior agency leaders, including Mr. Petraeus, and everyone signed off on it.
Ms. Feinstein, read the final unclassified talking points to reporters:
â€śThe currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.
â€śThis assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated.
â€śThe investigation is ongoing, and the U.S. government is working with Libyan authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of U.S. citizens.â€ť