The appearances were part of a gradual increase in the public profile of an administration insider, one eyed as a potential successor to Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state. Today, Rice’s profile has been raised, but hardly in the way that she or her White House supporters would have liked.
The administration’s characterization only days after Rice’s TV appearances that the assault in Libya was a terrorist attack has raised questions about why she attributed the incident to a protest that officials now say did not take place. Republicans have pressed for answers on whether she simply went too far in her assessment or was reading from an administration script that was designed to protect President Obama’s record on national security in an election year.
In an interview Monday with The Washington Post, Rice said she relied on daily updates from intelligence agencies in the days before her television appearances and on a set of talking points prepared for senior members of the administration by intelligence officials. She said there was no attempt to pick and choose among possible explanations for the attack.
“Absolutely not,” Rice said. “It was purely a function of what was provided to us” and had been given to Congress the day before.
Administration officials have risen to her defense. On Monday, Clinton said she wanted to “avoid some kind of political gotcha.”
“I take responsibility” for what happened on Sept. 11, Clinton told CNN in an interview shortly after arriving in Lima, the capital of Peru, for a visit.
Republicans have dismissed suggestions that they are playing politics. And Rice’s explanation of her remarks, which echoes that of other administration officials, including Vice President Biden, has not blunted the criticism.
“The facts are there was never a riot,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday on “Face the Nation.”
“My belief is that that was known by the administration within 24 hours and, quite frankly, Susan Rice, on your show on September 16th, the president on the 18th and the 25th, kept talking about an attack inspired by a video.”
Furor over comments
The White House has said that it turned to Rice to make the administration’s case on the Benghazi attack because it made sense to have a top diplomat speak to the loss of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens.
Rice has previously said little about the controversy generated by her TV appearances. Aides have said that her comments have been taken out of context and that she stressed at the time that the FBI was still investigating the attack.