Ambassador Susan Rice's hopes of replacing
Hillary Rodham Clinton as US secretary of state appeared to have
dimmed Wednesday, amid fresh criticism from Republican lawmakers over
her initial explanation of the deadly Benghazi attack in September.
Rice, who serves as the US ambassador to the United Nations, met with three Republican senators on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to address concerns about the public comments she made after the September 11 attack on a US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, which killed ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other members at the consulate.
Five days after the attack, Rice said that "the best assessment we have today was that in fact this was not a pre-planned, premeditated attack." It later emerged that US intelligence services had indeed received information that the attack had been planned.
The furor in Washington over the incident had fizzled down in recent weeks, but with Clinton's departure as head of the State Department looming, US President Barack Obama must name a successor, requiring congressional approval. Rice was widely speculated to be at the top of a short list of names.
Instead of reducing the criticism toward her response, Tuesday's meeting only renewed it.
Rice said in a statement that she admitted during the meeting that her initial assessments of the attack "were incorrect in a key respect: there was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi" that caused the attack.
She said her response was due to an imperfect intelligence assessment that has since "evolved." Some Republicans had suggested that the administration was seeking to conceal embarrassing information about inadequate security measures at the consulate.
"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," said Rice.
That explanation failed to satisfy the three Republican senators she privately met with - John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Acting CIA director Michael Morell was also present.
McCain told reporters after the session that he was "significantly troubled by many of the answers we got and some that we didn't concerning evidence that was overwhelming leading up to the attack on our consulate."
Graham said after leaving the meeting that he was "more disturbed now" than before entering it.
Rice was set for another chilly talk on the subject in Washington later Wednesday with Bob Corker, who is expected to be the next Republican leader on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Clinton has said she plans to leave the State Department sometime around January's presidential inauguration. Democrat Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts has also been mentioned as a leading candidate for the post.
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