[After meeting this morning with Amb. Susan Rice, Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, spoke to reporters today at a 12noon roundtable at the Foreign Policy Institute's annual conference, where she promised there "absolutely" would be a hold if Amb. Rice is nominated for Secretary of State -- and potentially, a hold on any administration nominee for the position -- until the administration answers Congress's questions about the terrorist attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi. (Click here for Jon Huntsman's exhortation to his fellow Republicans to back off on Benghazi). What follows is our rush transcript of her remarks.]
My meeting with Amb. Rice — I actually came out of the meeting more troubled than I went in, for a couple of reasons….
I appreciated that Amb. Rice was very direct and said that the discussion about the attack being related to a protest or the video, that was wrong, that information was wrong; and that was also confirmed by the acting CIA director that was in the meeting, Mike Morell. I appreciate that.
But that also raises the question, the acting director of the CIA said they had known very clearly by the 22nd that that narrative was wrong, and obviously neither Amb. Rice nor multiple administration officials that had made those representations — including in some instances the President have come forward and said that directly to the American people.
The other troubling piece of it for me, it was clearly obvious for me there was an intelligence failure ….It seems to me that the information they were relying on in terms of even putting forth that it was, [that] the attack was a spontaneous reaction to the anti-Islam video, was insufficient in my view….
When it comes to Amb. Rice, there’s been a lot of discussion about the unclassified talking points… that she said she relied upon on going on every major news station; but as part of her responsibility [as Ambassador to the United Nations], she receives daily intelligence briefings.
[Acting CIA Director Morell said] the intelligence was from the beginning that individuals with ties to al-Qaeda were involved in the attack…The classified talking points [said] individuals tied to al-Qaeda were involved in the attacks; Amb. Rice had access to that information….
What troubles me is she did go on every major news network and while the administration apparently is saying it’s not clear [how the unclassified talking points were edited], what we heard is the reference to al-Qaeda was removed because this was unclassified; that strikes me as absurd…
If you go on every major news network and you leave that piece out… it leaves a very different impression on the American people than when you say there are individuals who are tied to al-Qaeda involved… Let’s not forget that on Meet the Press and Face the Nation she also made the statement that al-Qaeda has been decimated. .. when you omit the reference that individuals with ties to al Qaeda are involved in this attack … you’re also simultaneously saying al-Qaeda has been decimated, the impression for the American people is no question a misleading impression. And that troubles me.
There are documents I want to get access to. I want to make clear I’ve requested to review all the State Department cables; I’ve been [refused]: Although I’m a member of the Armed Services Committee, I’m not a member of the Intelligence or Foreign Relations committee…Unacceptable.
The CIA station chief’s report to my knowledge has not been provided to the intelligence committee yet… The facts have not all come out regarding the before during and after of those circumstances and the meeting today left me with many more questions.
[Amb. Rice,] she is the Ambassador to the United Nations; that’s a very important position in and of itself. The President or the administration has mentioned her as a potential nominee for the Secretary of State. If you are an individual with that level of responsibility, and you review a set of information that does contain references that say individuals with ties to al-Qaeda are involved in the attacks, and then you are giving a set of talking points that does not include that information — I think by any fair measure the average person in looking at that omission would say why? Why is that omitted?…. There is a judgment issue about why would you go on every Sunday show and leave a different impression.
There need to be many more questions answered before we come to a full conclusion but I am deeply troubled….
There are so many questions frankly that are incredibly important to answer that involve the before and during of the attack on consulate. The before questions are very significant — meaning [there were] two prior attacks on the consulate; why wasn’t it reinforced with more security, particularly after the British had left. You had the attack on the convoy, you had the attack on the Red Cross. So that obviously crosses multiple jurisdictions…intelligence, the Secretary of State, as well as to some extent DoD [the Department of Defense].
During the attack, [which] occurred over a period of approximately seven hours.. why didn’t we have assets in the area in order to help those who were being attacked?…
Absolutely there will be a hold. My view is that we should hold on this until we get information, sufficient information, produced by the administration because these are questions that need to be answered. and let’s not forget the Secretary of State has a significant piece in this.