McCain Lightens His Critique of Rice

John McCain (R-AZ) speaks about US energy policy at the Ronald Reagan building on April 23, 2007.National Journal

Though he still has many questions, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., lightened his critique of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on Sunday.

This week, officials from the intelligence community confirmed that they changed Rice's talking points for her Sunday show appearances in the days after the terrorist attack in Libya that left four Americans dead.

McCain, who has said he would block her nomination if Rice is tapped as Secretary of State, said on Sunday that he would give Rice a chance to explain what happened.

"I'd be glad to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with her," he said on Fox News Sunday, adding, "I think she deserves the ability and the opportunity to explain herself and her position."

Rice has been the subject of fierce attacks for weeks from McCain and Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., among others, for initially saying an anti-Islamic video was the cause of the attack, and failing to mention al-Qaida. Later, Obama administration officials said her talking points were changed to omit classified information for security purposes.

President Obama and several Democrats have defended Rice in recent weeks, saying the criticism has been unfair. This week, Rice made her first public comments on the controversy.

Recommended Reading

"I relied solely and squarely on the information provided to me by the intelligence community," Rice said on Wednesday, according to NBC News. "I made clear that the information was preliminary and that our investigations would give us the definitive answers."

On Sunday, McCain backed off his critique, focusing more on the Obama administration and the failure to prevent the terrorist attack in the first place. "The problem is the president of the United States," he said.

Although McCain struck a more conciliatory tone on Sunday, Graham continued his attack on Rice and the administration, saying he did not believe the intelligence officials who said they changed her talking points.

"I'm increasingly convinced that the best and current intelligence assessment on 16 September went against the video. The video was a political smokescreen," Graham said on ABC's This Week, adding, "I don't believe the video is the reason for this. I don't believe it was ever the reason for this. That was a political story, not an intel story, and we're going to hold people accountable."

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., dismissed Graham's critique, saying Rice did her job and followed the instructions that were given to her by the intelligence community.

"If this were an NFL football game, the critics of Ambassador Rice would be penalized for piling on," he said on ABC. "For goodness' sake, she got the report from the intelligence community. She dutifully reported it to the public, just exactly what we expect her to do."

Although praising Rice on "an effective job as U.N. ambassador, especially on issues such as North Korea," Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., still remained critical of her actions following the attack in Libya.

"On this she is wrong," King said on NBC's Meet the Press. "If she is sent out to speak to the American people on what happened in Benghazi, she is obligated to do more than look at three sentences of unclassified or five sentences of unclassified talking points"¦ She knew that the story she was giving out was not entirely true."

McCain, along with Graham and Ayotte, called for a special, select committee to investigate the attack, much like those that examined the Iran-Contra affair and the Watergate scandal, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would not allow the committee. Still, McCain stood firm on his position.

"Four committees in the House and four in the Senate and they are holding different hearings and turf fights going on as it usually does in these bodies," McCain said. "We need a select committee in order to sort it out."

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4123) }}