News Column

Collins: Still 'Troubled' After Rice Meeting

Nov 28, 2012

Kevin Miller

Susan Rice

Maine Sen. Susan Collins said she remains concerned and "troubled" with Susan Rice's past statements about attacks on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, following a lengthy meeting with the United Nations ambassador on Wednesday.

Collins, a Republican, said she still had many unanswered questions following a more than hour-long meeting with Rice and, as a result, she was still unable to support Rice if she were nominated to be the next secretary of state.

Rice is under intense scrutiny for statements in September suggesting that the Benghazi attacks that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were protests that spun out of control rather than pre-planned assaults by militant groups.

"I continue to be troubled that the U.N. ambassador decided to play what was essentially a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election campaign by agreeing to go on the Sunday shows to present the administration's position," Collins told reporters immediately after the meeting.

Asked whether she would support Rice to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Collins repeated that it was "premature" to take a position.

"I will need to have additional information before I could support her nomination," Collins said. "She has not been [nominated] yet. Our Homeland Security Committee investigation is ongoing. There are many different players in this and there's much left to be learned."

Collins, who is the senior Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is the latest Republican to criticize Rice over the statements she made five days after the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi. But as a moderate Republican, Collins is viewed as a potential key vote toward the 60 needed for a Rice nomination to move forward in the Senate.

On Tuesday, Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said they emerged from a meeting with Rice with more concerns. Unlike Collins, the three senators have indicated that they might block Rice's anticipated nomination as secretary of state.

The Obama administration has defended Rice by insisting she was simply using talking points provided by the intelligence community. And numerous Democrats on Capitol Hill -- including House Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada -- have suggested that the largely Republican criticism of Rice is politically motivated.

Collins said she asked Rice about why she did not mention in the interviews the fact that some on-the-ground sources in Libya believed the attacks were pre-meditated assaults by terrorist groups, not protestors.

"I don't understand why she did not at least qualify her response," Collins said.

On Wednesday, Collins also appeared to broaden her queries beyond Benghazi by linking the incident -- and Rice -- to terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. Rice was assistant secretary for African affairs in the State Department at the time of the 1998 bombings that killed 12 Americans and wounded thousands of local residents.

As in Benghazi, the U.S. ambassador requested additional security but was turned down by the State Department. Collins said Rice told her she was not directly involved in that decision but the senator appeared to press the connection nonetheless.

"Surely, given her position as assistant secretary of African affairs, she had to be aware of the general threat assessments and of the ambassador's repeated requests for more security," Collins said.

In a statement released after Tuesday's meetings with senators, Rice acknowledged that her statements were wrong but said the situation was still developing at the time.

"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. "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."

Source: (c) 2012 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine)

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