White House: 'Entirely Appropriate' for Rice to Explain Benghazi on Sunday Shows
(CNSNews.com) – White House Press Secretary Jay Carney insisted that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice was sent on to the Sept. 16 Sunday shows as an administration spokesperson because U.S. diplomatic missions other than the one in Benghazi, Libya were in danger.
Carney also once again blamed an obscure YouTube video for the uprising at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt.
“She is a principal on the president’s foreign policy team, and it is convenient, I think, for a lot of people – I won’t say that. It is convenient for some to forget the context in which Ambassador Rice appeared on these Sunday shows,” Carney told CNSNews.com Tuesday.
“There were threats to embassy facilities around the region and the country. It was entirely appropriate for Ambassador Rice to appear on the air to take questions about the president’s approach to policy towards the unrest that was occurring as a result of the video,” he said.
Rice, who President Barack Obama reportedly is considering nominating to be Secretary of State, is facing scrutiny on Capitol Hill for misleading the public on five Sunday morning news programs on Sept. 16, when she said the attack in Benghazi was not a terrorist attack but a spontaneous demonstration against an anti-Islam YouTube video.
On Tuesday, Rice met with Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Graham in particular expressed concern, saying he was “more disturbed” after the meeting. Acting Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Morell accompanied Rice to the meetings.
At the daily press White House press briefing, Carney told reporters, “There are no unanswered questions about Ambassador Rice’s appearances on Sunday shows, and talking points she used for those appearances were provided by the intelligence community. Those questions have been answered.
“The questions that remain to be answered, and the president insists on being answered, have to do with what happened in Benghazi, who was responsible for the deaths of four Americans including our ambassador and what steps we need to take to ensure that does not happen again,” Carney added.
Later on, Carney said that Rice was not in a position to know more about intelligence than the talking points she was given.
“The focus on Ambassador Rice’s comments on Sunday shows – now I know that Sunday shows have vaunted status in Washington – they have almost nothing to do, in fact they have zero to do with what happened in Benghazi,” Carney said.
“Certainly Ambassador Rice, as I have made clear moments ago, has no responsibility for providing intelligence. That is the intelligence community’s responsibility. The United States Ambassador to the United Nations, as part of her portfolio, has no responsibility for diplomatic security,” he added.
CNSNews.com asked, “Jay, why was she selected--?”
Carney responded, “Thank you for that. She is a principal on the president’s foreign policy team, and it is convenient I think for a lot of people – I won’t say that. It is convenient for some to forget the context in which Ambassador Rice appeared on these Sunday shows. There were threats to embassy facilities around the region and the country. It was entirely appropriate for Ambassador Rice to appear on the air to take questions about the president’s approach to policy towards the unrest that was occurring as a result of the video.”
NBC reporter Chuck Todd followed by asking why an administration official more directly tied to the matter such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had not been chosen to answer questions on the Sunday shows instead of Rice.
Carney responded, “It could have been me. It could have been Ambassador Rice. I mean, I took questions on this too. And we all relied on information from the intelligence community.”
During a White House news conference earlier this month, Obama explained why Rice was sent on the Sept. 16 news programs.
“As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her,” Obama said at the Nov. 14 news conference.
“If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. Ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous,” he said.
Rice issued a statement earlier Tuesday about the meeting with the three senators.
“In the course of the meeting, we explained that the talking points provided by the intelligence community, and the initial assessment upon which they were based, were incorrect in a key respect: there was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi,” Rice said in the statement.
“While we certainly wish that we had had perfect information just days after the terrorist attack, as is often the case, the intelligence assessment has evolved. We stressed that neither I nor anyone else in the Administration intended to mislead the American people at any stage in this process, and the Administration updated Congress and the American people as our assessments evolved,” Rice added.
The Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. Administration officials, including Rice, initially said it was a reaction to a YouTube video, but later conceded it was a terrorist attack.
Former CIA Director David Petraeus told members of the House and Senate intelligence committees that that the CIA's draft talking points about Benghazi referred to it as a terrorist attack, but that the reference to terrorism was removed from the final draft.
Further, State Department officials told reporters that the department never believed that the YouTube video prompted the attack on the Benghazi compound.
On “Fox News Sunday” on Sept. 16, host Chris Wallace asked about the video tape remark and said, “You don't really believe that?”
Rice responded, “Chris, absolutely I believe that. In fact, it is the case. We had the evolution of the Arab spring over the last many months. But what sparked the recent violence was the airing on the Internet of a very hateful very offensive video that has offended many people around the world.”
In that same interview, Rice also said, “That what happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video. People gathered outside the embassy, and then it grew very violent, and those with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons, which unfortunately are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya and that then spun out of control.”
On CBS’s “Face the Nation” that same day, Rice told host Bob Schieffer “So we’ll want to see the results of that investigation to draw any definitive conclusions.
“But based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what - it began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo, where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video,” she said.
“But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post- revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent,” Rice added.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Rice told Host David Gregory, “This is a response to a hateful and offensive video that was widely disseminated throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
“Obviously, our view is that there is absolutely no excuse for violence and that – what has happened is condemnable, but this is a spontaneous reaction to a video, and it’s not dissimilar but, perhaps, on a slightly larger scale than what we have seen in the past with The Satanic Verses with the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad,” she said.
“Now, the United States has made very clear and the president has been very plain that our top priority is the protection of American personnel in our facilities and bringing to justice those who attacked our facility in Benghazi,” Rice added.
On ABC’s “This Week,” Rice told host Jake Tapper, “Well, Jake, first of all, it's important to know that there's an FBI investigation that has begun and will take some time to be completed. That will tell us with certainty what transpired.
“But our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous – not a premeditated – response to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated,” she added.