John O. Brennan, Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, is a leading contender for the CIA job if he wants it, officials said. If Brennan goes ahead with his plan to leave government, Michael J. Morell, the agency’s acting director, is the prohibitive favorite to take over permanently. Officials cautioned that the White House discussions are still in the early stages and that no decisions have been made.
Petraeus’s resignation last week after revelations of an extramarital affair has complicated what was already an intricate puzzle to reassemble the administration’s national security and diplomatic pieces for Obama’s second term.
The process has become further complicated by congressional ire at not being told that Petraeus was under FBI investigation, on top of what are likely to be contentious closed-door hearings this week on the administration’s actions surrounding the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
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.
Rice’s post-Benghazi remarks on several television news shows were merely a recitation of administration talking points drawn directly from intelligence available at the time, said the senior administration officials, who agreed to discuss the closely held transition planning on the condition of anonymity.
Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, said the White House would not comment on personnel matters.
The upcoming hearings and an independent State Department review of the Benghazi attack — being led by retired diplomat Thomas Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — may reveal some intelligence lapses and security missteps, one official said. But they will also demonstrate that there was no attempt at subterfuge, the official added.