Fox News is trying to disqualify Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, from being nominated as the next secretary of state by alleging that she made inaccurate statements about the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya. But during her Sunday show appearances, Rice was accurately conveying the consensus of the intelligence community at the time, and there is evidence that the anti-Islam video she referenced did, in fact, play a role in motivating the attack.
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Rice Accurately Conveyed View Of Intelligence Community, Stressed That Investigation Was Ongoing
Wash. Post's Ignatius: CIA Document Supported Rice's Description Of Attack As Reaction To Anti-Islam Video. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported that the CIA had confirmed that Rice's description of the Benghazi attack on the Sunday shows was accurate:
"Talking points" prepared by the CIA on Sept. 15, the same day that Rice taped three television appearances, support her description of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate as a reaction to Arab anger about an anti-Muslim video prepared in the United States. According to the CIA account, "The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations." [Washington Post, 10/19/12]
Rice On Sept. 16: "Obviously, We Will Wait For The Results Of The Investigation And We Don't Want To Jump To Conclusions Before Then." On the September 16 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Rice told host Chris Wallace that the FBI was investigating the attacks "closely" and stated that "we don't want to jump to conclusions before then." [Fox News, Fox News Sunday, 9/16/12]
Rice Repeatedly Said That Definitive Conclusions Could Only Be Drawn After The Investigation. In appearances on September 16 on ABC, CBS, and NBC, Rice repeatedly mentioned the ongoing FBI investigation of the Benghazi attack and said that no definitive conclusions could be drawn until after the investigation was completed. [Media Matters, 10/11/12]
Rice's Statements Were In Line With State Department's Message That The Investigation Was Ongoing. Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy and State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland both defended Rice's remarks and stressed that an investigation of the attack was ongoing. [Media Matters, 10/11/12]
DNI Office: Intel Community Initially Told Executive Branch And Congress That "Attack Began Spontaneously Following Protests" In Cairo. On September 28, the office of the Director of National Intelligence released a statement on the Benghazi attack. It said, "Throughout our investigation we continued to emphasize that information gathered was preliminary and evolving." It also noted that its initial assessment was that the attack "began spontaneously":
As the Intelligence Community collects and analyzes more information related to the attack, our understanding of the event continues to evolve. In the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo. We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available. Throughout our investigation we continued to emphasize that information gathered was preliminary and evolving. [DNI.gov, 9/28/12]
DNI Office Said Intel Community Revised "Initial Assessment To Reflect New Information Indicating That It Was A Deliberate And Organized Terrorist Attack." The statement from the DNI's office also made clear that new information led the intelligence community to revise its assessment:
As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists. It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attack, and if extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. However, we do assess that some of those involved were linked to groups affiliated with, or sympathetic to al-Qa'ida. We continue to make progress, but there remain many unanswered questions. As more information becomes available our analysis will continue to evolve and we will obtain a more complete understanding of the circumstances surrounding the terrorist attack. [DNI.gov, 9/28/12]
Indeed, Subsequent Reporting Suggests Anger Over Video Played A Role In Benghazi Attack
NY Times: "The Attackers" In Benghazi "Did Tell Bystanders That They Were Attacking The Compound Because They Were Angry About The Video." The New York Times reported that there is evidence to support the notion that the anti-Islam video motivated the attack:
What do eyewitnesses say about the events in Benghazi? Were they related to the insulting video, or is that a red herring? And was the assault planned for the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, or was it spontaneous?
According to reporting by David D. Kirkpatrick and Suliman Ali Zway of The New York Times, eyewitnesses have said there was no peaceful demonstration against the video outside the compound before the attack, though a crowd of Benghazi residents soon gathered, and some later looted the compound. But the attackers, recognized as members of a local militant group called Ansar al-Shariah, did tell bystanders that they were attacking the compound because they were angry about the video. They did not mention the Sept. 11 anniversary. Intelligence officials believe that planning for the attack probably began only a few hours before it took place. [The New York Times, 10/17/12, emphasis original]
State Department Official Nordstrom Testified That The Benghazi Attack Was Similar To Another Incident Where A Tunisian Consulate Was Attacked Over An Anti-Islamic Film. The same Times article cited testimony from a recent congressional hearing about the attack. Asked at this hearing whether he had come to a conclusion as to "whether the Benghazi attack was a terrorist act or whether it was based on some film that was on the Internet," State Department regional security officer Eric Nordstrom said that it reminded him of a similar incident where an extremist group attacked the Tunisian consulate in Benghazi over "what they claimed was an anti-Islamic film:
REP. RAUL LABRADOR (R-ID): I just have a quick question for Lieutenant Colonel Wood and Mr. Nordstrom. Given the information that you saw on TV and your knowledge of the situation in Libya, did you come to a conclusion as to whether this was a terrorist act or whether it was based on some film that was on the Internet?
NORDSTROM: The -- the first impression that I had was that it was going to be something similar to one of the brigades that we saw there, specifically the -- the brigade -- and it's been named in the press -- that came to my mind was Ansar al-Sharia.
It was a -- a unit or a group that Lieutenant Colonel Wood's personnel and I had -- had tracked for quite some time, we were concerned about. That specific group had been involved in a similar but obviously much smaller scale incident at the end of June involving the Tunisian consulate in Benghazi where they stormed that facility and it was in protest to what they claimed was an anti-Islamic film in Tunis. [House Oversight Committee hearing on consulate security in Benghazi, 10/11/12, via Nexis]
But Fox Is Suggesting Rice Is "Damaged Goods" Who Shouldn't Be Secretary Of State Because Of Benghazi Statements
Kilmeade: "I Think Democrats Have To Feel Like [Rice Is] An Embarrassment." On November 14, the co-hosts of Fox News' Fox & Friends discussed whether Susan Rice might replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Co-host Steve Doocy stated, "For a while it looked like Susan Rice would, but then she gave that cockamamie answer about the videotape regarding the Benghazi incident. So a lot of people have said, "She's damaged goods, she could never possibly get the job," could she? Co-host Brian Kilmeade added, "I think the Democrats have to feel like she's an embarrassment. She went out there and had her answer widely panned. Does the president really want to relitigate this fight? And go back to the days when Susan Rice was making believe that the tape was the real deal?" [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/14/12]
Megyn Kelly Questioned Whether Rice Could Become Sec. Of State After She Linked Benghazi Attack To Video. America Live host Megyn Kelly said, "I think now all of our viewers know [Rice], because she's the one who went on all the Sunday talk shows and told us that everything that happened in Benghazi was linked to this video, which we now know was not the case. Can she possibly ascend into the Cabinet, into this position in the Cabinet, given that?" [Fox News, America Live, 11/13/12]
Doocy: "To A Lot Of People," Susan Rice Is "Damaged Goods" After Appearing On The Sunday Shows. On the November 8 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Doocy said, "[W]ho's going to take [Clinton's] place? Well, the conventional wisdom is -- it had been -- Susan Rice. But she's -- to a lot of people, she's damaged goods after what she said on all the Sunday chat shows. It would be a tough confirmation." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/8/12]