November 28, 2012

Collins still unsettled by ambassador's Benghazi statements

Maine senator, Susan Rice meet one-on-one Wednesday

By Kevin Miller
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Susan Collins said she remains troubled about Susan Rice's past statements about attacks on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, following a one-on-one discussion Wednesday with the United Nations ambassador.

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United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, left, arrives for a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, right, to discuss the Benghazi terrorist attack on Sept. 11.

AP photos

Collins, a moderate Republican, said she had "many questions that remained unanswered" despite a more than hour-long meeting with Rice 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 shows to present the administration's position," Collins told reporters immediately after the meeting.

Collins said it would be "premature" of her to take a position on whether Rice should succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state. But, in another sign of the challenges facing the White House, Collins clearly indicated reservations with the nomination reportedly being weighed by the Obama administration.

"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 is ongoing. There are many different players in this and there's much left to be learned."

Rice is under intense scrutiny for statements in September suggesting that the Benghazi attacks that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were protests that spun out of control rather than pre-planned assaults by militant groups.

Collins is the latest Republican to criticize Rice over the statements she made five days after the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi.

Collins' voice may carry more weight than most, however, and her criticism made national news Wednesday. A bank of television cameras and reporters waited for her to emerge from the closed-door meeting with Rice.

She is the senior Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. And, as a moderate Republican, Collins is viewed as a potential key vote toward the 60 needed for a Rice nomination to move forward in the Senate.

Collins also was supportive of Rice, whose mother grew up in Portland, Maine, when Rice was nominated for U.N. Ambaassador in 2008.

"I knew her to be an intelligent and talented person," Collins told CNN Wednesday. Collins said she still feels that way, but "I am 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 that 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 were immaterial to the ongoing investigations 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.

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 (ambassador)."

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