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Published: October 16, 2012
US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice blames talking points from intelligence community as source of controversial account of Libya attacks, as lawmakers continue to press White House for a clearer explanation; and, in her first public comments on Libya since her controversial account days after the attack, blamed intelligence community talking points for the faulty narrative.
The light-on-details explanation Monday came as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took responsibility for any security failures leading up to the consulate attack last month.
But with the accounts coming as both presidential candidates head into a debate Tuesday night that will focus in part on foreign policy, neither appeared to settle mounting questions on the Hill about how the administration got the story so wrong.
Rice did not offer many details on the nature of the intelligence updates or whether they reflected a more nuanced version of events than the one she told the Sunday after the attack. In those interviews, Rice repeatedly claimed the deadly assault was a “spontaneous” reaction to protests over an anti-Islam film.
The administration later acknowledged it was a coordinated terror attack on the anniversary of 9/11.
Rice told The Washington Post that she used daily updates from the intelligence community and talking points prepared by that community for senior administration members before her Sunday show appearances.
She said her comments were “absolutely not” an attempt to cherry-pick an explanation.
“It was purely a function of what was provided to us,” she said.
Rice kept up the finger-pointing at the intelligence community, as Clinton took responsibility in a separate interview for any security failures.
Clinton, though, appeared to back up Rice in claiming shifting intelligence accounts and the “fog of war” were to blame for the faulty narrative.
“Remember, this was an attack that went on for hours,” Clinton said in an interview with Fox News during a trip to Peru. “There had to be a lot of sorting out. … Everyone said, here’s what we know, subject to change.”
However, sources have said some in the intelligence community suspected terrorism within 24 hours after the attack. Republicans on Capitol Hill have called into question claims that the State Department simply didn’t realize terrorism was at play.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the White House is the one that put Rice on the Sunday shows to push the narrative that the attack was spontaneous.
“They kept that up for an unacceptable length of time when there was no demonstration. … It was an eight-hour attack,” he told Fox News. “They are either deceiving the American people or they are so incompetent that they don’t deserve to serve.”
McCain and other lawmakers, meanwhile, continued to raise questions about what the White House knew regarding security at the Benghazi consulate, even as Clinton took responsibility. They pointed to earlier attacks on the consulate in April and June.
“My question is did anyone ever inform the president of the United States about these terror attacks on our consulate,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “What did he know, when did he know it, and what did he do about it? It would be stunning to me for our national security team not to inform the president back in April and June.”
Graham added: “If that’s the case, I have no confidence in our national security team.”
Vice President Biden, at last week’s vice presidential debate, claimed to be unaware of the requests for more security at the Benghazi outpost leading up to the attack. The White House later clarified that he was referring to both himself and Obama. It’s unclear, though, to what extent either might have been briefed about any of the security incidents in the region.
Biden, in that debate, also blamed the intelligence community for the erroneous claims made by senior officials that the attack was triggered by protests.