“Susan Rice should have known better and if she didn’t know better, she is not qualified. She should have known better. I will do everything in my power to block her from being the United States secretary of state. She has proven that she either doesn’t understand or she is not willing to accept evidence on its face. There is no doubt five days later what this attack was and for — look, I was on "Face the Nation" that Sunday. Right after her came the president of the Libyan National Assembly who said this was al-Qaeda. Everybody knew that. So she went out and told the American people something that was patently false and defied common sense.”
— Sen. John McCain, on “Fox and Friends,” Nov. 14, 2012
“When she presented the case absolutely this was a flash mob. Look at the reruns because I happened to have been there that morning.... The casual observer knew there was no demonstration. There was no demonstration, so you couldn't have known that to start with.”
— McCain, on “CBS This Morning,” Nov. 14
These are pretty tough words from the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, which were matched by a tough response from President Obama at Wednesday’s news conference. On the CBS program, McCain even suggested a select congressional committee was required to find out whether Rice was “guilty of misleading the American people.”
As a biographer of Condoleezza Rice, The Fact Checker recalls she was confirmed by a vote of 85 to 13, which were the most negative votes cast for a secretary of state in 180 years. (One of those “no” votes was from John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, who is vying with Susan Rice to be the nation’s top diplomat.)
Ironically, the key issue then was Condi Rice’s public use of intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq. Now McCain and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) are seizing on Susan Rice’s citing of initial intelligence about the Benghazi attack to disqualify her.
Here’s what Condi Rice said on a Sunday television show in 2002, “We know that he [Saddam Hussein] has the infrastructure, nuclear scientists to make a nuclear weapon. The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
No weapons of mass destruction, let alone nuclear weapons, were ever found.
But in 2005, McCain and Graham fiercely defended Condi Rice from Democratic attacks of “lying,” arguing she had been misled by intelligence. “I can only conclude we're doing this for no other reason than because of lingering bitterness at the outcome of the elections,” McCain complained when Condi Rice’s nomination came to a vote.
Let’s not forget that Condi Rice was also central to the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq, whereas Susan Rice, as U.N. ambassador, appears to be on the periphery on Libya.
Still, when Susan Rice made her appearance on the Sunday shows back in September, we were critical and awarded her Two Pinocchios, saying that “the publicly available evidence stands in stark contrast to Rice’s talking points.” But the White House sharply disputed that conclusion and said it was too early to hand out any Pinocchios.
We also produced a lengthy timeline that documented how long the administration avoided saying the attack in Libya was a terrorist act.
McCain’s comments give us a chance to revisit Susan Rice’s remarks, as there has been additional reporting that has shed some new light on what was known at the time. Is McCain correct in his characterization of Rice’s remarks?