On Sept. 16, 2012, then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice made an appearance on NBC News’s “Meet the Press,” in large part to discuss the tragic attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi that had unfolded five days earlier. When asked by host David Gregory whether the attack was a spontaneous outburst prompted by an anti-Islamic video or the work of well-prepared terrorists, Rice responded:
Well, let us– let me tell you the– the best information we have at present. First of all, there’s an FBI investigation, which is ongoing. And we look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired. But putting together the best information that we have available to us today our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo, almost a copycat of– of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video. What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding. They came with heavy weapons, which unfortunately are readily available in post-revolutionary Libya. And it escalated into a much more violent episode. Obviously, that’s– that’s our best judgment now. We’ll await the results of the investigation. And the president has been very clear–we’ll work with the Libyan authorities to bring those responsible to justice.
That comment — and similar ones on other shows that fateful Sunday morning — became a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s Benghazi scandal/controversy. Critics of the administration argued that the whole video thing was an orchestrated distraction in the middle of a presidential election to deceive the American public into believing that Benghazi wasn’t, in fact, a terrorist attack. Administration officials countered that there was no political influence in the process that produced those video-oriented talking points for Rice, and last year they released a bunch of interagency correspondence to prove it. Even so, Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Libyan embassy, said that he viewed the events as “a terrorist attack from the get-go.”
Benghazi, however, never dies. And so Gregory brought up the topic again when Rice, now national security adviser, came on this week’s edition of “Meet the Press” to talk Ukraine, Syria and other weighty matters. Introducing the touchy topic, Gregory addressed Rice, “When you were last here, Ambassador Rice, it was an eventful morning on the story of Benghazi and the horrible attack on our compound there.”
Gregory: As you look back at your involvement in all of that, do you have any regrets?
Rice: David, no, because what I said to you that morning and what I did every day since was to share the best information that we had at the time. The information I provided — which I explained to you was what we had at the moment, it could change, I commented that this was based on what we knew that morning — was provided to me and my colleagues, and, indeed, to Congress by the intelligence community. And that’s been well validated in many different ways since. And that information turned out in some respects not to be 100 percent correct. But the notion that, somehow, I or anybody else in the administration misled the American people is patently false and I think that that’s been amply demonstrated.
Gregory asked Rice whether her Sunday-morning-Benghazi-video thing had cost her the job of secretary of state in President Obama’s second term. She swatted away the question, saying she had a great job as national security adviser.
Perfectly fine questions.
One omission, however: Why, Ambassador Rice, were you even here on Sept. 16, 2012? Why were you chosen to speak for the administration, instead of then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton?
In fairness, there’s an “asked-and-answered” feel to that question, because Rice fielded it late last year in a “60 Minutes” interview. Asked by Lesley Stahl why she took on the role of spokesperson, Rice responded, “She had just gone through an incredibly painful and stressful week. Secretary Clinton, as our chief diplomat, had to reach out to the families, had to greet the bodies upon their arrival at Andrews Air Force Base. If I were her, the last thing I would have wanted to do is five Sunday morning talk shows. So I think it’s perfectly understandable…”
Anyone who found that answer wanting — Erik Wemple Blog included — would have enjoyed another go-round on “Meet the Press.”