Ayotte Gives Her Account of the Meeting with Susan Rice on Benghazi

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., speaks to reporters Nov. 27 on Capitol Hill. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Earlier in the week Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., sat down with a trio of GOP Senate opponents to hash out her response to the attack in Benghazi that cost the life of U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens.  Defense News reported on the aftermath, with the Sens. Ayotte, Graham and McCain walking away unimpressed.

While the story included several quotes from Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, I thought I’d post more of her account as told to a handful of reporters on Tuesday Nov. 27.  Ayotte described her increased concern about Rice’s judgement, and her inclination to hold up any nominee for the Secretary of State position until more information on the Benghazi attack is revealed.  Who knew what when will likely be the subject of debate for months as the GOP continues to push the issue.  See selections after the break

On her initial reactions:

My meeting with Ambassador Rice, I actually came out of the meeting more troubled than when I went in.

A couple of reasons.  Number 1, first of all the meeting began, which I appreciated, Ambassador Rice was very direct and said that the discussion about the attack being related to a protest or the video, that was wrong.  That information was wrong.  That was also confirmed by the acting CIA director who was in the meeting, Mike Morrel.

So I appreciated that but that also raises the question, the acting director of the CIA said that they had known very clearly by the 22nd that that narrative was wrong.  Obviously neither ambassador Rice, nor multiple administration officials that had made those representations including, in some instances the president, have come forward and said that directly to the American people.  So that was certainly one thing that leapt out at me.

But the other troubling piece that leaped out at me, was clearly, obviously, there was an intelligence failure on the fact that…it just seems to me that the information that they were relying on in terms of even putting forth that the attack was a spontaneous reaction to the anti-Islam video, was insufficient in my view.

On the talking points blamed for Rice’s implication that the attacks were related to an anti-Islam video:

Understand that when it comes to ambassador Rice there has been a lot of discussion about unclassified talking points that were released that she said she relied upon in going on every major news station, but as part of her responsibility as ambassador to the United Nations, which you might imagine, she receives daily intelligence briefings, which of course would be completely appropriate.  In fact she receives those briefings I think she told us six days a week.  Those briefings obviously include the classified information, and we know that the acting CIA director said that the intelligence from the beginning was that individuals with ties to al-Qaeda were tied to the attack.

We already know from the public discussion of this that the classified talking points contained the sentence that individuals with ties to al-Qaeda were involved in the attacks.  Ambassador Rice certainly had access to that information and did review not only the unclassified talking points.

She said very clearly that she did not just parrot back the unclassified talking points that did not contain the reference to al-Qaeda.

Part of her responsibility was she had reviewed the classified talking points.  So what troubles me is she did go on every major news network and while the administration is saying it’s not clear because there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered about who made the changes to those talking points. But what we’ve heard as an explanation is that the reference to al-Qaeda was removed because this was classified or something.

Well that obviously strikes me as absurd, and there needs to be further explanation of that.  If you think about it and you go on every major news network, and you leave that piece of it out, or you don’t question why do the unclassified talking points not have that, it leaves a very different impression to the American people when you say that there are individuals with ties to al-Qaeda involved, vs they aren’t.  I think anyone who would here that who is an average American, if you omit that piece, is left with a very different impression about what happened in the Consulate in Benghazi.

On Rice’s appearances in the media about Benghazi:

Let’s not forget that on Meet the Press and on Face the Nation she also made the statement that al-Qaeda has been decimated.  So put this in the context that when you omit the reference that individuals with ties to al-Qaeda are tied to this attack, and also simultaneously during the same interview, in other words you’re not telling the American people that piece, but you’re also simultaneously telling the American people that al-Qaeda has been decimated, the impression left with the American people no question is a misleading impression.  So that troubles me.

On remaining questions:

It wasn’t clear to me going into this meeting whether she had just looked at the unclassified talking points and repeated those or did her capacity, which I kind of expected, I would assume it’s a very important position, Ambassador to the U.N., that you are given regular briefings related to the security situation in the world and intelligence briefings related to her position.

So those are the questions, and where I’m left with this is that there are still many questions that have to be answered, including what did happen?  Many questions that I believe have to be answered by the intelligence community as to why they would give this impression in the first place when it’s clearly wrong.  Why after the 22nd wasn’t it corrected more directly with the American people?  I also think questions still remain about the talking points and who made those changes and why exactly were they made and what was the reasoning behind it?

Because I find it very hard to believe, or troubling, if the reasoning is that we are not telling the American people when ties to al-Qaeda are involved because what, we don’t want to tip off al-Qaeda?

On Rice’s judgement:

If you are an individual with that level of responsibility and you review a set of information that does contain references that say individuals with ties to Al Qaeda are involved in the attacks, and then you were given a set of talking points that does not include that information, and I think by any fair measure the average person in looking at that omission would say why? Why is that omitted and why am I now going on every Sunday show?

So there’s a judgment issue about why would you go on every Sunday show and leave a different impression and I think that’s a judgment issue that is a fair issue of inquiry.  I still think that there needs to be many more questions answered before we come to a conclusion, but I am deeply troubled by the judgment question.

Zachary Fryer-Biggs
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Zachary Fryer-Biggs

Senior Staff Writer at Defense News
Zach is the State Department correspondent, cyberwarfare, research & development and business reporter for Defense News.
Zachary Fryer-Biggs
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