Actually, yes, Susan Rice did say the Benghazi attacks were spontaneous

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins,Politics Digest

Over at Slate, Dave Weigel has a post up mocking Arizona Senator John McCain’s threat to filibuster Ambassador Susan Rice. In the course of the post Weigel writes the following:

“We have a process for nominations, and we want to give her a full hearing,” said Sen. Marco Rubio yesterday when asked about Rice. “I’m concerned with the fact she went on Sunday shows and said this was the product of a spontaneous uprising and not a terrorist attack. Obviously she based those comments on directives or information that she had, and it’s important to know where those directives came from and what that information was.”

Rubio’s comments were interesting because this popular version of the “Rice comments” isn’t true. On those Sunday shows, she said that extremists used a protest as a cover for their planned attack, not that the attack happened off the cuff. The key figure in spreading this lie about Rice was … John McCain, who said that same Sunday that “most people don’t bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to demonstrations.” (Emphasis added.)

Weigel is apparently basing the claim on what Rice said on the Sunday shows on this post by Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum titled “The High-Tech Lynching of Susan Rice.” (The ambassador is black in case you missed Drum’s sledgehammer subtlety). The main point of Drum’s argument is that Rice didn’t intentionally mislead regarding the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi:

The CIA’s collective judgment on Saturday the 15th, when Rice taped her interviews, was that the protests earlier in the week in Cairo — which had been inspired by the video — had also inspired protests in Benghazi. Later, extremist elements hijacked those protests to storm the consulate. The CIA subsequently backed off its belief that there had been protests in Benghazi, but that only happened later. On Saturday, the CIA told Rice there had been protests, and that’s what she said on [the five Sunday shows].

That is what the CIA and the administration is saying now, but there is considerable evidence that they knew even the day of the attacks that there had in fact been no protests and that the attacks were planned. Who knew what when and whether the administration was trying to cover it up is precisely what Congress is trying to determine.

Weigel tweeted Drum’s post and even amplified it: “McCain et al keep saying Rice told Sunday hosts that attacks were ‘spontaneous’ response to video. Not true.” He must not have read Drum’s post very closely because even he doesn’t say that. Drum concedes that on CBS, for example, Rice said the protests – which, remember, we now know never happened in the first place – were “spontaneous” and that extremist elements then “joined in.”

Here are the relevant passages from that interview:

BOB SCHIEFFER: And joining us now, Susan Rice, the U.N. ambassador, our U.N. ambassador. Madam Ambassador, he says this is something that has been in the planning stages for months. I understand you have been saying that you think it was spontaneous? Are we not on the same page here?

SUSAN RICE (Ambassador to the United Nations): Bob, let me tell you what we understand to be the assessment at present. First of all, very importantly, as you discussed with the President, there is an investigation that the United States government will launch led by the FBI, that has begun and–

BOB SCHIEFFER (overlapping): But they are not there.

SUSAN RICE: They are not on the ground yet, but they have already begun looking at all sorts of evidence of– of various sorts already available to them and to us. And they will get on the ground and continue the investigation. So we’ll want to see the results of that investigation to draw any definitive conclusions. But based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy–


SUSAN RICE: –sparked by this hateful video. But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that– in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post-revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.

BOB SCHIEFFER: But you do not agree with him that this was something that had been plotted out several months ago?

SUSAN RICE: We do not– we do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.

Here is what Rice said the same day on Fox News Sunday:

RICE: Well, first of all, Chris, we are obviously investigating this very closely. The FBI has a lead in this investigation. The information, the best information and the best assessment we have today is that in fact this was not a preplanned, premeditated attack.That what happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video. People gathered outside the embassy and then it grew very violent and those with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons, which unfortunately are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya and that then spun out of control.

But we don’t see at this point signs this was a coordinated plan, premeditated attack. Obviously, we will wait for the results of the investigation and we don’t want to jump to conclusions before then. But I do think it’s important for the American people to know our best current assessment. (Emphasis added.)

And here is what Rice said on ABC that same day:

But our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous — not a premeditated — response to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated.

We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people came to the embassy to — or to the consulate, rather, to replicate the sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo. And then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons, weapons that as you know in — in the wake of the revolution in Libya are — are quite common and accessible. And it then evolved from there.

Rice is at least consistent: The version of the events she peddled that day was that a spontaneous protest happened in Benghazi in reaction to Cairo protests, then crazier people showed up with guns.

I pointed out to Weigel via Twitter that Rice did in fact say the attacks were spontaneous. He responded: “Yes. Spontaneous protest used as cover for planned attack. This is entirely consistent.”

But as Rice puts it herself the attacks grew out of the protest. The clear implication is they wouldn’t happened if the protests hadn’t happened first to get people all fired up. Since the protests were spontaneous then the attacks were too.

Furthermore, how is it possible for anybody to plan for a spontaneous protest to occur to cover their attack? Either it was planned or it wasn’t and as the transcripts show, Rice clearly said it wasn’t planned.

UPDATE: I’ve added video from Rice’s CBS appearance.








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