During an extremely rare interview with Meet the Press on Sunday, President Barack Obama told host David Gregory that he was still puzzled by the attacks on U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, calling them purely partisan.
Rice drew criticism this fall after she repeatedly, incorrectly named an anti-Islamic YouTube video as the cause of the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
“Why she was targeted individually for this kind of attacks that she was subjected to is – was – puzzling to me,” Obama said in the interview, “and I was very clear in the days after those attacks that they weren’t acceptable.”
“In the politics and the back and forth in this, do you feel like you let your friend Susan Rice out there to dry a little bit,” Gregory asked Obama.
“No… She appeared on a number of television shows reporting what she and we understood to be the best information at the time. This was a politically motivated attack on her,” Obama said. “I mean, of all the people in my national security team, she probably had the least to do with anything that happened in Benghazi.
Considering Rice’s limited involvement and knowledge of the events surrounding the Sept. 11 attack, it’s equally ‘puzzling’ to Republicans why she was selected by the Obama administration to appear on several national television shows and push out the White House’s false talking points about the cause of the attack. In the interviews she claimed the protest was in response to an anti-Islam video on YouTube, which was not true. She is now widely seen as a ‘fall guy’ for the Administration.
Rice withdrew her name from consideration for U.S. secretary of state as criticism continued to mount after the Obama Administration’s botched response to the attack. In a letter to President Obama, Rice said ”the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive, and costly — to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities. That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country.”
Rice’s letter to Obama came on the heels of a meeting with Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Rice hoped to stay the Senators’ concerns by meeting with them, but the Senators said after the meeting that they were more disturbed than before.
“It is clear that the information she gave the American people was incorrect when she said that it was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video. It was not, and there was compelling evidence at the time that that was certainly not the case,” McCain said.
It wasn’t just Republicans who opposed Rice for the position, either. Current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it very clear that she did not favor Rice for the role.
In addition to standing by Rice, Obama continued to show strong support for former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s bid to become the next Secretary of Defense.
“I’ve served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He is a patriot. He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate, somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam,” Obama said.
Hagel has taken fire from the Left and Right for his policy views and comments he made about a former ambassador nominee during the Clinton Administration, including that being gay was an inhibiting factor to doing an effective job. Hagel also made comments in a 2006 interview that some claimed were anti-Semitic.
“I think a lot of Republicans and Democrats are very concerned about Chuck Hagel’s positions on Iran sanctions, his views toward Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah, and that there is wide and deep concern about his policies. All of us like him as a person,” Graham said on Fox News Sunday. ”There would be very little Republican support for his nomination, at the end of the day, there will be very few votes.”
Though Obama defended Hagel, he also said he hasn’t decided who he will eventually nominate to the post.