11:22 pm Nov. 18, 2012
On Sunday morning, Republicans played a game of whodunnit, speculating across the Sunday shows about who might have altered the Benghazi talking points that were eventually delivered by Ambassador Susan Rice.
“The fact is that when Gen. Clapper and Gen. Petraeus signed off on those talking points, it had different language in them,” said Rep. Peter King on ABC's "This Week."
On Friday, after a closed-door hearing, King told reporters that, according to Petraeus' testimony, the C.I.A. had suspected the attack was a pre-meditated terrorist attack, a revelation that set off a round of questioning from Republicans about how and why that possibility wasn't mentioned by Rice, when she spoke for the administration in the days after the attacks.
Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who held a joint press conference last week to call for a Watergate-style select committee, appeared separately on Sunday to re-state their criticisms of Rice and the adminstration. (The third member of that press conference, genial New Hampshire senator Kelly Ayotte, did not make a Sunday appearance.)
Rice is considered the front-runner to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, and President Obama issued a fierce defense of her at a press conference last week, raising the stakes for determining her role in the aftermath of the deaths in Benghazi.
"It's one of the most unfair attacks I've ever seen in Washington in 34 years," said Michigan senator Carl Levin, who pressed King to explain why the intelligence officials had signed off on the talking points if they were so flawed.
"This is the key, Martha," he said to guest host Martha Raddatz, "and I want to hear Representative King deny it. Those talking points were signed off on by Petraeus and by Clapper. Does she not have a right to rely on them?"
King said they had been changed, and when the intelligence officials ultimately approved, "they had no choice at that stage."
On "Meet the Press," the Republican chair of the Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, suggested the draft talking points went to a special committee, though he didn't elaborate.
"It went to this so-called Deputies Committee that's populated by appointees from the administration," he said. "That's where the narrative changed."
Senator Dianne Feinstein said her Intelligence Committee would investigate why the C.I.A.'s conclusions were not included in the talking points, though she said it was "false" to assert the White House had made the changes.
Graham disagreed, saying Rice was "politically compliant," and that the truth conflicted with the president's election-year contention that Al Qaeda had been crippled by his administration, which served as the primary Republican talking point on Sunday.
"The story she told reinforced a political narrative helpful to the president," said Graham, who is up for re-election in South Carolina in 2014. Asked whether he would block her appointment, Graham said he didn't know but had always been "deferential" to the president's picks.
On "Face the Nation," McCain suggested the path to her nomination might lead back through the Sunday shows.
"I think we give all nominees the benefit of a hearing process, et cetera," he said. "Maybe she could start out by publicly coming back on this show and saying, I was wrong, I gave the wrong information on your show some several weeks ago. That might be a beginning."
But McCain said he couldn't support any nomination for Secretary of State at present.
"Until we find out all the information as to what happened, I don't think you could want to support any nominee right now because this is very, very serious, and it has even larger implications than the deaths of four Americans," he said.
(A front-page profile of Rice in the New York Times on Sunday reminded readers that Rice, as a campaign surrogate for Obama in 2008, had mocked McCain's wearing of body armor on a visit to Baghdad. “I don’t think he’ll be strolling around the market in a flak jacket," she said of Obama.)
Two of their Senate colleagues, Republican Saxby Chambliss and independent Joe Lieberman, said they did not believe their was a need for a special select committee, even as they wondered who the culprit was.
"The only entity that reviewed the talking points that was not there was the White House," Chambliss said of the hearing on Friday.
Ultimately, it might come down to Rice's own testimony, and that of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"I think she's agreed to come testify and she needs to," Chambliss said of Clinton.
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