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(Corrects identity of senator cited in fifth, 18th and 19th paragraphs.)
Three Republican senators including John McCain of Arizona said they will meet today with Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to hear her explanation for a flawed account of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
“She asked to see me, and I agreed to see her,” McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said yesterday in an interview. Asked what he would ask Rice, McCain said, “The same questions I’ve been talking about on every talk show in America.”
Republican lawmakers led by McCain have said Rice misled the public by saying on five Sunday television talk shows on Sept. 16 that the attack in Benghazi five days earlier that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans unfolded from a demonstration against an anti-Islamic video that was “hijacked” by militants.
Two other Republican senators who also have criticized Rice -- Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire -- said they will join McCain for the meeting.
McCain has eased off his criticism of Rice in recent days, as have other Republicans such as Senator James Inhofe. That may bolster the ambassador’s prospects to win confirmation if President Barack Obama nominates her to succeed the departing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
McCain had previously called Rice’s comments “not very bright” and vowed to oppose her for secretary of state.
Obama came out out strongly in defense of Rice, a close confidante since his first run for president in 2008 when she was his foreign policy adviser. At a Nov. 14 news conference, Obama said his UN envoy had done “exemplary work” and for senators including McCain “to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”
Rice told reporters in New York on Nov. 21 that she had “relied solely and squarely on the information provided to me by the intelligence community. I made clear that the information was preliminary and that our investigations would give us the definitive answers.”
She said some of McCain’s statements “have been unfounded, but I look forward to having the opportunity at the appropriate time to discuss all of this with him. I have great respect for Senator McCain and his service to our country.”
Erin Pelton, a spokeswoman for Rice, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the meeting plans, which McCain disclosed earlier yesterday in an interview with the Daily Beast website.
McCain tempered his criticism of Rice over the weekend, saying on “Fox News Sunday” on Nov. 25 that Rice is “not the problem. The problem is the president of the United States,” who McCain said misled the public about terrorist involvement in the Libya attack.
Graham, who has said he would oppose Rice if she’s nominated, yesterday didn’t back down from his earlier contention that she intentionally misled the public with her remarks about the attacks.
“I am more concerned than ever that the version given by her and the president about this being a spontaneous event with no clear al-Qaeda connections doesn’t pass the smell test,” Graham said.
Ayotte, who is threatening to place a “hold” on any Rice nomination until further questions are answered, said it’s unlikely the matter will be entirely resolved in one meeting.
“I assume we’ll hopefully get answers to some of the questions we have,” she said.
Intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said they dropped references to possible al-Qaeda connections to the attack from initial accounts to protect intelligence sources, not the president’s re-election campaign.
Rice and acting Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Morell are to meet this week with U.S. lawmakers to discuss the Benghazi attack, according to an Obama administration official who asked to not be named because the meetings hadn’t been publicly announced.
Inhofe of Oklahoma, who will take over from McCain in January as the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters yesterday that he may support Rice for secretary of state after initially believing she misled the public.
“I believe she very well could have been thrown under the bus” by being given inaccurate information, Inhofe said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Litvan in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at email@example.com