In a move that is already angering Republican lawmakers, President Obama will name as his next national security adviser Susan Rice, the administration official who delivered (but did not draft) the talking points that downplayed the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sunday television shows in September five days after the incident.
Rice, who has been the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was informally floated to be Obama’s pick late last year to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of State. But she withdrew her name from the process after key Republican senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham expressed reservations about the pick over the Benghazi episode.
After the Benghazi attack, Rice delivered the talking points that attributed the attack to a demonstration against an Internet video that was offensive to Muslims. FBI investigators have since found evidence the mission was cased the morning before the attack and carried out by attackers linked to jihadist organizations affiliated with al Qaeda, like Ansar al-Sharia.
Jason Chaffetz, one of the leading Republican House members investigating the Benghazi attack, said Rice was a terrible choice to lead the president’s national-security staff. “It’s curious the president selected her for a position that does not require Senate confirmation; there is no way she could get through that process,” he said. “I am sure she is a nice person, but she lacks judgment. She claims to have read the daily intelligence brief and anyone who was following what was happening in Libya would have known terrorism was likely a factor in the incident in Benghazi.”
Not all Republicans were as negative. Sen. John McCain tweeted Wednesday morning, "Obviously I disagree w/ POTUS appointment of Susan Rice as Nat'l Security Adviser, but I'll make every effort to work w/ her on imp't issues."
Chaffetz first reached out to Gregory Hicks, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli on the night of the Benghazi attacks. Hicks testified last month before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that he told Hillary Clinton on the night of the attacks that it was an act of terror.
The White House last month also released a chain of emails that showed how the talking points were drafted. Rice was nowhere in the chain of emails and there has been no evidence that she played any role in drafting the talking points that misattributed the attack to the demonstration.
Indeed, that error was the initial fault of the CIA, whose first draft of talking points included more information on the affiliations of the attackers and the presence of al Qaeda in Libya than what remained in the final talking points Rice read on national television.
“Nine months later and after the release of thousands of documents to Congress, the one thing that's crystal clear is that Rice did absolutely nothing wrong on Benghazi,” said Thomas Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Staff who left the post in March. “Republicans decided to attack her for shameless political reasons, but even Senator Graham said the president is entitled to choose his own national security adviser.”
Chaffetz said though that he was troubled because “she used her good name to try to convince the American people of this bogus story.” He added, “She has to take some responsibility for that, the president is obviously not holding her accountable. It’s what is so troubling about the entire Benghazi incident, people are getting promoted for a job poorly done.”
Replacing Rice at the United Nations will be Samantha Power, another close adviser to Obama. Both Rice and Power have been advisers and confidantes of Obama since the mid 2000s. Rice was the main national security adviser to Obama in his 2008 campaign and faced some pressure from supporters of Clinton in 2007 when she came out early as a supporter of Obama.
Rice was a national security council staffer and assistance secretary of state for African Affairs during the Clinton administration. Her decision to support Obama in the 2008 cycle was seen as an act of betrayal according to Democratic Party sources. “There were some people who were former colleagues of hers who told her she would never get lunch in this town again for supporting Obama in 2007,” one Democratic party foreign policy specialist told The Daily Beast. “It was seen as blasphemous inside Clinton land.”
Rice, Power, and Clinton were also strong advocates inside the Obama administration for U.S. intervention in Libya in 2011. Eventually, the three women prevailed and Obama approved U.S. bombing campaign against the forces loyal to Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.
Vietor however said it would be wrong to assume Rice’s views on Libya carried over to Syria today. “She is realistic; she will not advocate for intervention in Syria for the sake of intervention in Syria,” Vietor said. “She understands all the pitfalls; she understands our experience in Iraq, that these things are often a lot more complicated."
Vietor added however that Rice was also affected by the inaction of the world in the face of genocide in Rwanda during the Clinton administration. “She is also a person who was in government during Rwanda and was seared by that experience, Vietor said. “From her work at the United Nations she understands that the United States as a diplomatic and military power is often the last best hope.”
President Obama is expected to make the announcement for Rice and Power this afternoon.