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Ayotte 'more troubled' by Benghazi response after meeting with U.N. Ambassador Rice, CIA

Senior Political Reporter

November 27. 2012 9:46PM
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) addresses the second session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 28. (REUTERS)

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte said Tuesday she was "more troubled" about the Obama administration's mixed explanations of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya after meeting with United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and acting CIA Director Mike Morell.

Ayotte met with the officials along with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. They had criticized Rice for saying five days after the Benghazi attack, which claimed four American lives, that it was a spontaneous reaction to an offensive video.

The three senators have promised to block Rice should she be nominated as secretary of state to succeed the outgoing Hillary Clinton. Under Senate rules, any senator can block a motion from reaching the Senate floor through a "hold."

Rice had sought the face-to-face meeting with the three senators, but apparently, it backfired.

After the meeting, freshman New Hampshire Republican Ayotte told reporters, "I want to say that I'm more troubled today knowing, having met with the acting director of the CIA and Ambassador Rice. Because it's certainly clear from the beginning that we knew that those with ties to al-Qaida were involved in the attack on the embassy. And clearly the impression that was given of the information given to the American people was wrong. In fact, Ambassador Rice said today, absolutely, it was wrong."

Ayotte also said, "I have many more questions that need to be answered."

In an interview, Ayotte told the New Hampshire Union Leader Rice "was asked to go on the (Sunday morning talk shows on Sept. 16) by the White House and, during the initial part of our meeting, she said the story she had given about the protest and the video being connected was wrong information."

Ayotte said Rice told her that by Sept. 22, "the CIA had fully confirmed that there was no protest and no reaction to the video, so I'm surprised she didn't come out sooner and say it was wrong."

Ayotte said that while Rice has said she relied on unclassified talking points to assert that the attack was a demonstration related to the video, "that's actually not the case. As part of her responsibility, she receives daily intelligence briefings, including classified briefings it's been reported that the classified talking points said that individuals with ties to al-Qaida were involved in the attack.

"She told us she had already reviewed the classified briefings when she went on the air on Sept. 16," Ayotte said.

Ayotte said that while she is not pre-judging whether she would place a hold on Rice's nomination if she were nominated as secretary of state, "If we were in the position that we are today, with substantial questions unanswered, then I'd place a hold on it. If it were brought forward tomorrow, there would surely be a hold until we get some additional answers."

McCain said after the meeting, "We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got and some that we didn't get concerning evidence that was overwhelming leading up to the attack on the consulate."

Graham said, "The concerns I have today are greater than before, and we're not even close to getting the basic answers."

"Before anybody can make an intelligent decision about promoting someone involved in Benghazi, we need to do a lot more," Graham said. "To this date, we don't have the FBI interviews of the survivors conducted one or two days after the attack. We don't have the basic information about what was said the night of the attack."

Ayotte said, "As the ambassador to the United Nations, you go well beyond the unclassified talking points in your daily preparation and responsibility for that job, and that's troubling to me as well."

At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney said Rice's critics have "focused on this for what appear to be political reasons when the issue that matters is what happened to those four Americans and who was responsible and what can we do to make sure it doesn't happen again."

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