GOP senator with White House influence expresses concerns about Susan Rice


Following a 95-minute, closed-door meeting with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she wants more information before backing the ambassador if President Barack Obama tapped her to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The issue is Rice's controversial explanation for the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. In a series of TV appearances, Rice blamed the attack on a spontaneous protest to an anti-Muslim video rather than terrorism.

"I still have many questions that remain unanswered," Collins told reporters after the meeting. "I continue to be troubled by the fact that the U.N. ambassador decided to play what was essentially a political role at the height of the contentious presidential election campaign by agreeing to go on the Sunday shows to present the administration's position."

However, Collins stopped short of saying she would try to block a nomination as Sens. Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte have said they would do.

What Collins did say was that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., would have a smooth path to confirmation if Obama chose him over Rice for the State Department job.

Meantime, Rice has met with Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who is in line to become the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Corker has not spoken out about whether he supports Rice for the State Department post, but he was highly critical of the intelligence apparatus and the administration, calling the whole Benghazi situation "a tawdry affair."

When asked about a possible nomination, Corker said he will make his decision when the president announces his choice. He made it clear that Mr. Obama should carefully weigh the decision, advising the president to "take a deep breath and decide who is the best secretary of state of our country."

Rice's Wednesday meetings with Collins and Corker marked the second straight day of private sessions for Rice as she tries to suppress the controversy over her initial assessment of the Benghazi raid.

Tuesday, Rice answered questions from Sens. John McCain, Graham and Ayotte about her explanations about the cause of the September attack.

After that closed-door session, Rice admitted that her initial account was flawed, but she insisted she had not been trying to mislead the American people when she made her comments five days later.

"The talking points provided by the intelligence community, and the initial assessment upon which they were based, were incorrect in a key respect: There was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi," Rice said in a statement after the meeting. "While we certainly wish that we had had perfect information just days after the terrorist attack, as is often the case the intelligence assessment has evolved."

That discussion failed to mollify McCain, Graham and Ayotte, her most outspoken critics. The three senators indicated that they would try to block her nomination.

Typically, only nominees meet privately with lawmakers. Rice's recent trips to Capitol Hill reflect the Obama administration's campaign for Rice as Clinton's replacement.

The White House has been adamant in its support for Rice, arguing that she was relying on an assessment from the intelligence community and had no responsibility in compiling the information on the cause of the attack. It dismissed what it characterized as a fixation on her national television appearances five days after the raid.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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