Republican senators finally got their opportunity Tuesday for a face-to-face talk with UN Ambassador Susan Rice about the events surrounding the fatal attacks on U.S. outposts in Benghazi, Libya, but said they left feeling more confused and “disturbed” than before the meeting.
“I am more disturbed now than before,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who met with Rice for about 90 minutes on Capitol Hill.
Graham was joined at the meeting by acting CIA Director Michael Morell and Sens. Kelly Ayotte, of New Hampshire, and John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I’m significantly troubled by the answers we got and didn’t get,” said McCain, R-Ariz.
The lawmakers said the meeting covered questions about security at the U.S. Consulate and CIA annex in Benghazi before the Sept. 11 attacks, in which U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed, and about Rice’s comments afterward.
Rice, U.S. envoy to the United Nations, went on network television five days after the attacks to say the strikes were “spontaneous” and seemed to grow out of a protest of an anti-Islamic video.
However, reports later revealed no evidence of a protest outside the Consulate, and U.S. intelligence officials later said the strike appeared to be a pre-planned terrorist attack.
Rice has maintained that she was using talking points provided to her from unclassified intelligence reports based on the best available information.
She acknowledged Tuesday that information was not accurate.
“In the course of the meeting, we explained that 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 in a written statement.
“Neither 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.”
Rice continues to be discussed as one of the top candidates to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she steps down next year.
However, the senators said after the meeting they needed more information about the attacks and the aftermath before making a decision on how they might vote on a potential Rice nomination.
Clinton has said she will step down as soon as her replacement is ready.
Rice and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., have been the top names discussed for the job.
The three Republican senators have been the most vocal in demanding Rice be held accountable for her public explanation of events.
“I am more troubled today and after meeting with acting Director Morrell and Susan Rice,” Ayotte said.
The New Hampshire senator also said Rice’s responsibility to the American public is to “go well beyond the talking points.”
Rice and Morell met later in the day with Connecticut Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, and Rice is scheduled to meet Wednesday with Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins. She also is expected to meet soon with Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker.
"It's only fair to her,” Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Government Affairs Committee, said about Rice’s trip to Capitol Hill. “There's a lot of rumoring going on."