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Ayotte: ‘Substantial questions’ remain about Sept. 11 Benghazi attacks

Senate Armed Services Committee member, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., right, accompanied by fellow committee member, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., center, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, following a meeting with UN Ambassador Susan Rice . Rice met with lawmakers to discuss statements she made about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya that left the ambassador and three other Americans dead. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Senate Armed Services Committee member, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., right, accompanied by fellow committee member, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., center, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, following a meeting with UN Ambassador Susan Rice . Rice met with lawmakers to discuss statements she made about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya that left the ambassador and three other Americans dead. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte yesterday emerged so troubled from a meeting with one of the nation’s top diplomats about the September terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that she said she cannot yet support President Obama’s likely nominee to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Along with Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ayotte has been sharply critical of the erroneous information U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice provided about the Sept. 11 attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

The three Republicans met with Rice and acting CIA Director Michael Morell yesterday. The meeting didn’t alleviate any of their worries, the senators said afterward.

“There’s still substantial questions that need to be answered, and there’s still information we need to obtain,” Ayotte said in an interview with the Monitor.

Days after the terrorist attacks, Rice appeared on several Sunday morning talk shows and didn’t mention that al-Qaida had been involved. Instead, she said the attack was partly a reaction to a YouTube video insulting to Muslims.

Obama administration officials have said Rice was relying on talking points issued by intelligence agencies that did not include the critical classified information about al-Qaida.

Multiple versions

But confusion has arisen about the talking points given to Rice – there were two versions, officials say.

One version included the information about al-Qaida. A later version, which officials said Rice used, did not. Intelligence officials say they deleted the references to al-Qaida in the later version.

Ayotte and others counter that Rice, who they say receives daily intelligence briefings, knew people involved in the attack had ties to al-Qaida.

Rice either didn’t question enough what the intelligence officials put in the talking points or provided the American people with misleading information, Ayotte and the other Republicans said.

“I came into the meeting with this impression that . . . she just took the unclassified talking points, parroted them back and really had not reviewed the classified information. That’s not true,” Ayotte said. Rice had “reviewed the version that had the reference to al-Qaida omitted,” she said.

Moreover, Ayotte said, it’s unclear which intelligence official changed the talking points.

No explanation

Yesterday morning, she said Morell claimed the FBI deleted the al-Qaida references to protect an ongoing criminal investigation. But in the afternoon, she said the CIA took responsibility for the deletion.

There’s still no explanation for the confusion, Ayotte said.

She said the events before and during the attack also need to be explained.

“Why wasn’t our consulate secured more? Or if we couldn’t secure it sufficiently, why didn’t we close our consulate? Those are the important questions beforehand that have not been sufficiently answered. And in fact I’ve been seeking access to the State Department cables, and so far I haven’t been able to get access to those,” Ayotte said. “But I should be able to as a member of the Senate.”

Ayotte, Graham and McCain initially wanted to see a new Senate committee established to do a single investigation into the attack in Benghazi – several committees have jurisdiction and it would be better to streamline the process, the senators said.

Other senators, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said such a move is unnecessary, making its establishment unlikely. Ayotte said she hopes the House of Representatives will take up the matter instead.

Foreign policy in focus

It was a foreign-policy focused day for Ayotte, who moderated a discussion about foreign affairs with Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who used to be a Democrat. Ayotte also discussed her concerns about Benghazi at a press conference and on Fox News and CNN.

“If there were representations made – which there were – that left a misleading impression to the American people about the nature of the attacks that occurred on Benghazi, why wouldn’t we want to get to the bottom of that?” Ayotte said. “I think those are fair questions and important questions.”

In a briefing with reporters yesterday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated what he has said in the past: that Rice was relying on what she believed was the most up-to-date information available.

“The focus on talking points is misplaced,” Carney said. “They were initial assessments, and they evolved as more information was gathered.”

In a prepared statement released yesterday, Rice echoed Carney, saying she relied on information from intelligence officials that was “incorrect in a key respect: there was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi.”

“(N)either 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 said.

Clinton era winding down

Yesterday’s events came as Clinton has begun to wind down her tenure and Obama has started to lay the groundwork for congressional hearings for the next secretary of state. Rice, a Rhodes scholar and adviser to Obama’s 2008 campaign, was considered a top choice.

Ayotte does not sit on the Foreign Relations Committee, which vets the nominees for secretary of state.

But, if Rice is approved by the committee, Ayotte could use a parliamentary procedure known as a hold to block the nomination.

Ayotte said she would consider using a hold to block Rice’s nomination if her questions weren’t sufficiently answered.

“I’ve said I haven’t made up my mind what we would do with a nomination,” Ayotte said. “If it’s two months from now and we’ve gotten the information that we’re seeking, then obviously at that point it’s just whether I would support her or not.”

The New Hampshire senator who does sit on the Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, said yesterday on MSNBC that Rice has done a “very good job at the United Nations.”

Shaheen said it’s unfortunate that much of the discussion about Rice and Benghazi has gotten “personal,” but she’s hopeful Rice will get a fair hearing – if nominated.

“Sen. McCain is a patriot; I think he’ll give her a fair hearing,” Shaheen said on MSNBC. “I certainly think that of my colleague from New Hampshire, Sen. Ayotte, and of Lindsey Graham.”

In a statement emailed to the Monitor, Shaheen said she was looking forward to meeting with Rice or “whoever is nominated by the President to become our next Secretary of State.”

“Like any nominee, Ambassador Rice will face an extensive vetting process if she were to be selected for the position. I look forward to her coming before the committee to answer a broad range of questions on national security issues, including Benghazi. Ambassador Rice is clearly qualified for the position,” Shaheen wrote.

(Molly A.K. Connors can be reached at 369-3319 or mconnors@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @MAKConnors)

Personal and not based on the facts MDT1? The problem is we are not getting the facts! We did not get them with Fast and Furious and we are not getting them with Libya. It seems to me that progressives are in denial about the economy, jobs, spending and now security. The ball ws dropped in Libya for months. Where is the Secretary of State? If she was not on a world photo op tour for the last 4 years, maybe should could have done a better job of making sure that the security that was requested was approved. This President is incompetent. And the folks who head his depts obviously have no clue what they are doing.

What's the matter Kelly, the Feds treating you with like a N.H. RSA Chapter 93-A:4,IV citizen (;-) in having to wait the "5 business days" before you can obtain an answer to such request as what? denied? re: "And in fact I’ve been seeking access to the State Department cables, and so far I haven’t been able to get access to those,” Ayotte said. “But I should be able to as a member of the Senate.”

Vendetta gainst the President! I guess for the supportors of our President there is no problemo with our embassy being attacked. There also is no issue with an embassy requesting security time and time again and not getting that security. Again, where else are we at risk? Oh I forgot, this is a tempest in a teapot and a vendetta. has nothing whatsoever to do with protecting our folks in our embassies.

In 1983 there were 241 American service men killed by a car bomb in Lebanon, and there was never any of this kind of political bloviating going on. In 2001, Bush white house ignored actionable intelligence reports in May and August, regarding a possible attack by Al Qaida inside the United States; in both those cases nothing was done to find a scapegoat. Condoleezza Rice, was one of the administration point surrogates pushing the fiction of WMD’s in Iraq and the potential mushroom cloud that would result if we didn’t preemptively attack Iraq….she lied knowingly or unknowingly, only she knows for sure…but, nothing was done to her, John McCain and Lindsey Graham found her to be more than qualified to be Secretary of State. It was a unfortunate circumstance in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of 4 Americans, but this has been totally stoked by Fox News from day one, and it has been totally politicized by these 3 bumpkins in the Senate for personal reason. They are picking on someone that had nothing to do with this matter, and was only using the talking points provided to her by the CIA. John McCain has been sour and bitter against this President going back to losing election, Graham and Ayotte are just a couple of tag along’s are trying to enhance their importance, but sound shrill and politically motivated. President Obama is having an investigation in this matter and I believe these Three Stooges should allow the investigation to take its course, before they shoot their mouths off! These Three Stooges are nothing, but political opportunists!

I agree MDT1, John McCain has been drinking from the public trough way too long, as have Lindsay Graham and quite a few others. The new senator is flexing her muscles for notoriety but it will get her nowhere but downhill. They like the limelight and appear to be grabbing at straws no matter whose character they try to assassinate. As usual, the beating of a dead horse shows just what the conservative politician does for attention. Judd Gregg did this to keep his name in the papers for elections, he did nothing but keep the appearance of being involved in the headline news... it worked for him and maybe it will work for Kelly....

Great comment, MDT1. McCain and Graham have no credibility and stink of hypocrisy, given their treatment of the other Rice when she was nominated for Sec of State. She mishandled/ignored multiple intelligence briefings that warned of a possible 9/11 attack. Then she lied about the intelligence regarding WMDs in Iraq in ginning up the war on Iraq. All of it was fine with McCain and Graham. Now they play politics after the tragic deaths of 4 men in a war zone in Libya--and demand answers for events that happened in the fog of war. Their actions are contemptible. Tom Ricks of the WaPo properly called out Faux News for ginning the Behghazi attack up--pure politics prior to the election. And that's what these 3 continue to do as well

So let's analyze your response here. You suggest that because of an incident in 1983 caused by a Republican administration that any Republican should not comment on this today and just "shut up". Then because Condoleeza Rice 'supposedly' lied even though she used the same intelligence that Democrats used to get us into the Iraq war that any Republican should just "shut up". So in your opinion two wrongs make a right and it is now allowed for Obama and his administration to sweep the Benghazi incident under the rug? Even though they lied about it being caused by a video? And after we learned it WAS TERRORISM, Obama went before the UN and still blamed the video? The issue is that your boy and his playmates got caught in a lie and now all of the the Kings horses and all of the Kings men and women in the media and the sycophants with blinders on just want this to go away. It is typical for progressives to act this way. You folks will lie, cheat and steal to forward your agenda.

Ok itsa, The Iraq war in 2003 was authorized by a republican congress. What MDT1 was trying to state is that both McCain and Graham had no problems with Rice even though she gave flawed information to the senate. EvenPowell was duped into giving false information to the UN by erroneous information given to him. Now they are indignant because the same thing has happened with Rice, and they are upset! The only reason is that there is a democrat sitting in the oval office. You can't have it both ways. It's that simple! Quit with the spin and take the conservative blinders off.

A tempest in a teapot. Whose interests were harmed if indeed Susan Rice provided misleading information on the Sunday talk shows? If the intelligence community edited the information she was to give out, and especially if they edited it in order to protect ongoing operations and/or operatives, then what is the big deal? This has more to do with efforts to get John Kerry appointed and out of the Senate; efforts to harass and embarrass Obama; efforts to assuage John McCain's bruised ego; efforts to position Ayotte to become Jeb Bush's VP candidate. How does Susan Rice providing inaccurate information on the Sunday talk shows compare to Condoleeza Rice and Dick Cheney lying to Congress, and to the world, about WMDs in Iraq? Stop the crap, Kelly, and get back to work.

LOL...one of the funniest posts ever. During the debates, Obama said he called it a terrorist attack in the Rose Garden. Then Rice says it was a spontaneous reaction to a video. Then Obama said the same thing. So to answer your question "Whose interests were harmed if indeed Susan Rice provided misleading information on the Sunday talk shows?"...I'd say Obamas.

I was not surprised that the meeting yesterday with Rice produced no answers I watched the Libya hearings and they did the same thing. The depts all took turns blaming each other, or stating that is not part of their job, it is another dept's job. Round and Round in circles so no answers are forthcoming. We saw it also with Fast & Furious. When the commitee asked for e mails, they got stalled for months. Then the ultimate stop to Fast & Furious was the Prez using his privelege to make sure Holder did not not produce anything. Where is Hillary? She is hiding and will not produce any info. That deal is set. her husband stumps for the Prez and she gets a pass on providing info. Why did her husband stump for the Prez? Simple, Hillary will run for Prez and she needs the support of all the Dems. We will never know why security was refused for the embassy and we will never know why the attack was laid on a video. There is a desire to stop us from getting the info. Why, because if we got it, we would see incompetence or a coverup. For now we will get racism, gender bias and every attempt to keep what actually happened from ever coming out.

Kelly Ayotte has tied herself to John McCain and Lindsey Graham's vendetta against President Obama, but it has become personel and not based on the facts, it seems like they are speaking from their own talking points provided to them by Fox News. Kelly is starting to look small in stature and unfortunately these 3 clowns are starting to look like the "Three Stooges" , rather than public servants!

I hope that you read the article before coming to that conclusion. They are not providing information to a branch of the government. They are not following through on the transparency promised in 2008 and 2012. They are not being honest with the American people. To call someone a "stooge" for trying to get the truth out to the voters, the taxpayers, the constituents is something that should be revered, not criticized. Beyond that, I am glad that you feel that the Congress and all government (including the President) are public "servants". A "servant" serves the desires of the people, not those in power. That is exactly why Kelly Ayotte is doing her job, admirably.

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