It's Time for the Republican Freakout Over Susan Rice to Stop

| Tue Nov. 13, 2012 1:19 PM EST

The Washington Post, in a piece about how President Obama's national security team is likely to shake out in the wake of David Petraeus's departure and the expected resignation of Hillary Clinton, says that Susan Rice is his top pick to take over the State Department. But there might be trouble brewing:

Rice, one of an inner circle of aides who have been with Obama since his first presidential campaign in 2007, is under particular fire over the Benghazi incident, in which U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

Some Republican lawmakers have suggested that she was part of what they suspect was an initial election-related attempt to portray the attack as a peaceful demonstration that turned violent, rather than what the administration now acknowledges was an organized terrorist assault.

Rice’s description, days after the attack, of a protest gone wrong indicated that she either intentionally misled the country or was incompetent, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday. Rice, he said, “would have an incredibly difficult time” winning Senate confirmation as secretary of state.

But several White House officials said Obama is prepared to dig in his heels over her nomination to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has long said she will serve only one term.

I hope Obama does dig in his heels over this if he really thinks Rice is the right person for the job. The Republican freakout over Benghazi has been shameful, and their insane scapegoating of Rice's appearances on the Sunday chat shows a week after the attacks has been doubly so. Republicans—aided and abetted at times by reports in the mainstream media—decided to pretend that Rice had blamed the Benghazi attack entirely on a YouTube video, which they took as dark evidence of a coverup designed to protect Obama. But the truth is that Rice flatly did nothing wrong, a point that bears repeating. She did nothing wrong. Here's an instant replay of what happened, which I originally posted three weeks ago:

  • The CIA's collective judgment on Saturday the 15th, when Rice taped her interviews, was that the protests earlier in the week in Cairo — which had been inspired by the video — had also inspired protests in Benghazi. Later, extremist elements hijacked those protests to storm the consulate. The CIA subsequently backed off its belief that there had been protests in Benghazi, but that only happened later. On Saturday, the CIA told Rice there had been protests, and that's what she said on TV.
  • The evidence to this day suggests that, in fact, the YouTube video did play a role in the attacks. It's simply not true that Rice invented or exaggerated about that.
  • Rice was, in fact, properly cautious in her TV appearances. The transcripts here are crystal clear. On Face the Nation, for example, she carefully told Bob Schieffer that she couldn't yet offer any "definitive conclusions," but that "based on the best information we have to date" it appeared that there had been a spontaneous protest in Benghazi "as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where [...] there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video." She then immediately added: "But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent." When Schieffer pressed her on whether the attack had been preplanned, or whether al-Qaeda was involved, she said directly that we simply didn't know yet.

Graham and the rest of the Republican caucus appear to still be in election season attack dog mode, and it's time for this to stop. They have every right to investigate Benghazi, which might very well have been handled poorly in some respects and which might have been a case of poor anticipation of an attack that should have been expected. But Rice's conduct was fine. She very carefully, and very professionally, passed along what was, at the time, the considered judgment of the intelligence community. Some of it was wrong, but there was no coverup. There was just new information and new analysis over time, which is exactly what you'd expect following an incident like this. It's long past time for conservatives to acknowledge this.

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