Tuesday, March 11, 2014
WASHINGTON — Maine's U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Wednesday that after a one-on-one discussion with United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, she remains troubled by Rice's statements about the attack in September on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya.
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.
Collins said she had "many questions that remained unanswered," despite a meeting with Rice that lasted more than an hour Wednesday morning.
"I continue to be troubled that the U.N. ambassador decided to play what was essentially a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election campaign by agreeing to go on the Sunday (television) shows to present the administration's position," Collins told reporters immediately after the meeting.
Rice is under intense scrutiny for making statements in September suggesting that the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans arose from protests that spun out of control rather than a plan by militant groups.
Collins is the latest Republican to criticize Rice over the statements she made five days after the attacks on Sept. 11. But her voice may carry more weight than most, and her criticism of Rice made national news Wednesday. A bank of television cameras and reporters waited for her to emerge from the closed-door meeting with Rice.
Collins is the senior Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. And, as a moderate Republican, she is viewed as a potential key vote if Rice is nominated to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state.
Collins said it would be "premature" for her to take a position on the nomination that is reportedly being considered by the Obama administration.
But, in another sign of the challenges facing the White House, Collins clearly indicated reservations.
"I will need to have additional information before I could support her nomination," Collins said. "She has not been (nominated) yet. Our Homeland Security committee investigation (of the attacks in Libya) is ongoing. There are many different players in this and there's much left to be learned."
Collins was supportive of Rice, whose mother grew up in Portland, when Rice was nominated in 2008 to be U.N. ambassador.
"I knew her to be an intelligent and talented person," Collins told CNN Wednesday.
Collins said she still feels that way, but is "concerned that Susan Rice's credibility may have been damaged."
On Tuesday, Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said they emerged from a meeting with Rice with more concerns.
Unlike Collins, the three senators have indicated they might block Rice's anticipated nomination as secretary of state.
The Obama administration has defended Rice by insisting she was simply using talking points provided by the intelligence community.
The White House and some congressional Democrats have suggested that partisan politics may be behind the attacks on Rice.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney once again referred Wednesday to an "obsessive focus" on Rice's statements, which he said are immaterial to the investigation into who carried out the attacks and lessons that can be learned from them.
"As I think the president has said, and I and others have said, it's a shame to create a sideshow that seems, I think, very clearly to be very political out of something that really has no bearing on what happened in Benghazi," Carney said at a press briefing, according to a transcript.
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