Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, walks to a meeting on Capitol Hill with UN Ambassador Susan Rice.
UN Ambassador Susan Rice arrives for a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington with Sen. Susan Collins, R- Maine, and Sen. Corker, R-Tenn., to discuss the Benghazi terrorist attack.
The president, meanwhile, praised Rice's service at the United Nations and led a round of applause for her during a Cabinet meeting that she attended.
"Susan Rice is extraordinary," Obama said, according to the transcript. "I couldn't be prouder of the job that she's done" as the U.N. ambassador.
As the top Republican on the Homeland Security committee, Collins could have considerable influence as the panel investigates the events surrounding the Benghazi attacks.
Collins and committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., have pledged to conduct a fair, bipartisan investigation. But the largely Republican criticism of Rice and the Democratic response underscore the potential for further political tension over Benghazi.
In another possible signal to the administration concerning Rice, Collins said she believes that the other rumored top contender for secretary of state -- Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts -- would be an "excellent appointment" and would face a much easier approval process in the Senate.
Collins said she asked Rice why she did not mention in media interviews the fact that some on-the-ground sources in Libya believed the attack was planned by terrorist groups.
"I don't understand why she did not at least qualify her response," Collins said.
Collins also appeared to broaden her queries beyond Benghazi by linking the violence -- and Rice -- to terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.
Rice was assistant secretary for African affairs in the State Department at the time of those bombings, which killed 12 Americans and wounded thousands of local residents.
As in Benghazi, the U.S. ambassador requested additional security but was turned down by the State Department. Collins said Rice told her she was not directly involved in that decision, but the senator appeared to press the connection.
"Surely, given her position as assistant secretary of African affairs, she had to be aware of the general threat assessments and of the ambassador's repeated requests for more security," Collins said.
In a statement released after Tuesday's meetings with senators, Rice acknowledged that her statements after the Benghazi attack were wrong but said the situation was still developing at the time.
"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.
"While we certainly wish that we had had perfect information just days after the terrorist attack, as is often the case, the intelligence assessment has evolved," she said.
Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: