WASHINGTON, DC — Senate Republicans Friday appeared to shift positions on the assault on the American consulate in Benghazi, moving away from political attacks on Ambassador Susan Rice to calls for further inquiries into substantive issues relating to security and intelligence gathering.
For weeks Republicans have hammered Rice for claiming the attack was in response to an anti-Islam YouTube video during a Sunday show appearance following the incident.
Democrats have bitterly complained that the assault on Rice, who they say was just repeating a CIA briefing — and whom President Barack Obama appears dead set on nominating as Secretary of State. Her defenders call the attacks purely political in nature, pointing out that her comments have resulted in no policy changes and that she was working with the information provided by the intelligence community.
"Increasingly the focus is going to be on the fact that despite a growing and significant amount of information being provided to the state department about the growing risk in the Benghazi area, they did not take adequate enough security measures," Sen. Marco Rubio said bluntly after a closed-door hearing with former CIA chief Gen. David Petraeus. "I think that’s what the growing amount of inquiry should be about in the coming days.”
“I think that’s what we’ve got to find out. Clearly the security measures were not adequate despite an overwhelming and growing amount of information showing the area of Benghazi was dangerous and particularly the date of September 11 was a significant date,” Rubio added.
Likewise, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, stressed the need to continue investigating the Benghazi attacks and the failures of intelligence gathering and security.
“There are any number of issues in this scenario because we’re not on the ground … there are still a lot of outstanding questions,” Chambliss said, adding that he was happy with the hearing. "We’ve still got to determine, number one, how did this group penetrate the facility we had in Benghazi? Who were these folks? We have a pretty good idea now, we’re getting closer to determining that," he said.
“It’s delving into more depth on issues like that that we’ve got to do,” Chambliss said.
And while Chambliss rejected the idea that the attack was anything but terrorism, he was notably mum about Rice until pressed by reporters. Even then, his comments were significantly toned down.
Indeed, Chambliss acknowledged that “the problem with what Susan Rice said was not whether she stuck with the talking points, were they correct. They were. “
However, Chambliss did take issue with Rice’s decision to also tout the administration’s efforts against Al Qaeda given the fact that intelligence seemed to show they were involved in some way with the attack.
Even Sen. John McCain, who has been one of Rice’s chief critics in the Senate, was largely mum on the subject following the hearing, opting instead to lambaste the Iraqi government for freeing Ali DaqDuq, a Hezbollah leader connected to multiple American deaths.
Democrats were clearly pleased following the hearing.
“In fact, what the U.N. ambassador stated was the talking points that had been given, approved, declassified to the House Intelligence Committee and that’s what she, I am told, restated,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, a member of the community.
“So much of this confusion has arisen because of the difference between what is classified and what is unclassified,” Sen. Kent Conrad said. “When people are talking in a classified setting, they can say much more than they can say in an unclassified setting. The notes that Ambassador Rice was speaking from were from an unclassified setting.”
“She used the unclassified talking points that were signed off on by the entire intelligence community,” Conrad said.