Controversy over Susan Rice's Benghazi comments continues (+video)
On Tuesday, U.S. United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice met with Republican senators who have accused her of misleading the public following the attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi. The White House is searching for a replacement for Hillary Clinton, who plans to leave her job as secretary of state in January.
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Morell told the senators during the meeting that the FBI had removed references to al Qaeda from the talking points "and did so to prevent compromising an ongoing criminal investigation" of the attack on the U.S. mission, the statement by McCain, Graham and Ayotte said.Skip to next paragraph
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"However, at approximately 4:00 this afternoon, CIA officials contacted us and indicated that Acting Director Morell misspoke in our earlier meeting. The CIA now says that it deleted the al-Qaeda references, not the FBI. They were unable to give a reason as to why," the statement said.
The initial draft of the talking points written by the CIA referred to "attacks" carried out by "extremists with ties to al Qaeda." However by the time Rice received them, "attacks" had changed to "demonstrations" and "with ties to al Qaeda" had been deleted, multiple U.S. sources have said.
A U.S. intelligence official said the CIA changed the reference to al Qaeda for "several valid intelligence and investigatory reasons."
Among the reasons cited were that "the information about individuals linked to al Qaeda was derived from classified sources, and could not be corroborated at the unclassified level; the links were tenuous and therefore it made sense to be cautious before naming perpetrators; finally, no one wanted to prejudice a criminal investigation in its earliest stages."
U.S. intelligence officials have denied that there was any intent to misinform. The White House has denied making the edits in the talking points, and had no further comment on the subject after the meeting.
'Way too early to tell'
Obama has defended Rice and said if senators have a problem with the administration's handling of Benghazi they should "go after me" rather than try to "besmirch her reputation."
Obama has also said if he believed Rice was the right person for a job in his administration, he would not hesitate to nominate her, throwing down the gauntlet to Republicans.
The White House has not given a timeframe for when the president might nominate a replacement for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton's aides have said she plans to step down around the inauguration, which is in late January, and would like to stay until her successor is confirmed.
Rice has some defenders on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said Tuesday he was shocked that Republican attacks on Rice were continuing, calling them "outrageous and unmoored from facts and reality."
Rice met in the afternoon with Senator Joseph Lieberman, an Independent who is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, and she will meet on Wednesday with the panel's top Republican, Senator Susan Collins.
Collins said it was "way too early to tell" if Rice could attract the 60 Senate votes needed to overcome any procedural obstacles if she is nominated, but that Rice had erred in being the administration's voice on Benghazi if she was interested in becoming secretary of state.
"The secretary of state is supposed to be above politics, and she played a very political role by appearing at the height of the political campaign, on those shows," Collins said.
But Lieberman, after meeting Rice, said she had done nothing to disqualify herself for some other position in government.
"I specifically asked her whether at any point prior to going on those Sunday morning television shows she was briefed or urged to say certain things by anybody in the White House related to the campaign or political operations. She said 'no.'"
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