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King calls for Rice resignation over Libya story, Kerry defends

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U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, right, and U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., left (AP/Reuters)

A top Republican called Friday for U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice to resign over her "misleading" statements on the Libya terror attack -- escalating a brewing battle between lawmakers and the administration over the changing narrative.

Rep. Peter King, the New York Republican who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, told National Review that he thinks Rice should resign over the controversy. He was referring to her repeated claims during interviews on the Sunday after the attack that the strike was a “spontaneous” reaction to protests in Cairo over an anti-Islam film -- though officials now acknowledge it was a coordinated terror attack.

"She is America's foreign policy spokesman to the world," King said. "The fact is she gave out information which was either intentionally or unintentionally misleading and wrong, and there should be consequences for that. And I don’t see how she didn’t know how … that information was wrong.”

He called for a “full investigation.”

King’s statement, the first call by a top-ranking lawmaker for a resignation in connection with the controversy, triggered a swift response from Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who leapt to Rice’s defense. Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was “deeply disturbed by efforts to find the politics instead of finding the facts in this debate.”

“Everyone who cares about the four fallen Americans in Benghazi would do well to take a deep breath about what happened and allow Secretary Clinton's proactive, independent investigation to proceed,” he said in a statement. “I’m particularly troubled by calls for Ambassador Rice’s resignation. She is a remarkable public servant for whom the liberation of the Libyan people has been a personal issue and a public mission. She's an enormously capable person who has represented us at the United Nations with strength and character.”

The State Department and the White House's National Security Council also have come to Rice's defense.

"During her appearances on the Sunday talk shows September 16, 2012, Ambassador Rice's comments were prefaced at every turn with a clear statement that an FBI investigation was underway that would provide the definitive accounting of the events that took place in Benghazi," State Department spokeswoman Erin Pelton said late Friday. "At every turn Ambassador Rice provided -- and said she was providing -- the best information and the best assessment that the administration had at the time, based on what was provided to (her) and other senior U.S. officials by the U.S. intelligence community." 

King’s statement, though, was a sign he perhaps wasn’t satisfied by the claim by the nation's top intelligence official Friday that administration officials who initially said the attack was spontaneous did so based on intelligence officials' guidance.

The statement by Shawn Turner, spokesman for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, was put out late Friday -- the statement appeared to take the blame for the confusion, and also marked a complete reversal from the administration’s initial claims about the origin of the strike.

"As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists," Turner said. "It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attack, and if extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. However, we do assess that some of those involved were linked to groups affiliated with or sympathetic to Al Qaeda."

Turner, though, sought to explain that officials who discussed the attack as spontaneous did so based on intelligence community assessments.

"In the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo," he said. "We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available. Throughout our investigation we continued to emphasize that information gathered was preliminary and evolving."

However, sources have told Fox News that intelligence officials knew within 24 hours the attack that left the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead was terrorism, and that they suspected it was tied to Al Qaeda.

It's unclear, then, why the intelligence community told Executive Branch officials it was spontaneous. In the midst of the changing story, King and other Republicans have complained that they were misled by the administration. They pointed to briefings as well as Rice’s Sunday show comments.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are raising questions about security at the compound in Benghazi. All members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote to the State Department on Thursday asking for additional details about security at U.S. diplomatic posts and for a fuller explanation of the attacks on U.S. compounds in Libya, Egypt and Yemen.

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said, "Rice has done extraordinary work at the United Nations and for the American people. The president appreciates the work she does every day, and he is looking forward to her continued work.”