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State Department stands by Rice, rejects call for resignation over Libya account

 

The State Department on Monday stood by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice in the face of a call by a top House Republican that she resign over "misleading" statements on the Libya terror attack. 

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday that the department rejects any call for Rice's resignation, adding that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has confidence in Rice and believes she has done a "superb job." 

The statement of support comes after Rep. Peter King, the New York Republican who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, said repeatedly that Rice should resign. 

King and other Republicans have slammed Rice for claiming 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. 

"The fact is she gave out information which was either intentionally or unintentionally misleading and wrong, and there should be consequences for that," King told the National Review on Friday. 

King's call has triggered statements of support by top Democrats including Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid. 

Reid accused Republicans of trying to "politicize the tragic events in Libya" and stressed that Rice was basing her statements on "preliminary information." 

It remains unclear, though, was exactly top administration officials knew after the attack. The office of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appeared to take the blame in a statement Friday for initial claims that the attack was tied to the anti-Islam film. 

"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. 

However, sources have said intelligence officials knew within 24 hours of the attack that it was terrorism. 

In two interviews this past Sunday, representatives with the Obama administration and Obama campaign also gave different explanations for when President Obama acknowledged it was terrorism. 

Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod said on CNN's "State of the Union" that the president called the Sept. 11 strike an act of terror "the day after it happened." 

However, David Plouffe, a senior White House adviser, said later Sunday that "in the days after" the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, it was "not clear" the strike was an act of terror. 

"This ... obviously was a very, very fast-moving period of time," Plouffe said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I think now, based on the recommendations and the investigation of the intelligence community, they made the decision to conclude that this was a terrorist attack." 

Axelrod was apparently referring to Obama's public statement on Sept. 12 in which he referred to "acts of terror." However, Obama did not explicitly label the attack terrorism at the time -- no administration official did so until the following week. 

Mitt Romney's campaign slammed the president's team over the allegedly conflicting story. Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said in a statement: "The Obama White House and the Obama campaign can't seem to get their stories straight on the attack on our consulate in Libya. This morning, they offered conflicting stories on if and when the President thought the attack in Benghazi was a terrorist act." 

"These inconsistencies raise even more questions about the confusion and mixed messages that have marked the White House's response from the very beginning," Williams added. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.