WASHINGTON — U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s decision to remove her name from consideration for the post of Secretary of State effectively caps a three-month administration scandal over the Benghazi terrorist attack.
Rice, who was selected by the administration to address the Sept. 11 attack on the five Sunday morning shows in the immediate aftermath of the attack, found herself in hot water after her appearance for minimizing the role of extremists groups in the attack that killed four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya.
Rice said the attack was a response to an anti-Islam YouTube video, which precipitated an embassy attack in Cairo the day before — a claim ultimately proven mostly incorrect by reports pointing to extremist group involvement in a coordinated attack.
Neither the tragedy nor the investigations are going away, but the politically-charged environment it occupied is now in the past.
“Rice's withdrawal certainly takes the partisanship out of the Benghazi issue and allows for a bipartisan commission to move forward to ensure a Benghazi-type attack cannot happen again,” said one Senate GOP foreign policy aide.
Senate Republicans, led by Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, spent the better part of two months attacking Rice’s comments, questioning the intelligence she was provided, and alleging an effort by the administration to cover up the role of al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists in the attack.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, administration officials and lawmakers jockeyed to figure out what happened — and who should be held responsible. The State Department took the initial blame for the lack of adequate protection, while the CIA was next in line for failing to provide advance warning — and for confusing reports out of Libya.
Rice’s stumble on the shows — reading off unclassified talking points — sparked what the White House termed a Republican “obsession” over the attack. And while administration officials have never indicated they were concerned politically by the fallout, they did little to hide their displeasure with congressional Republicans, and less still to stand up for their hand-picked spokesperson on the attacks.
“I didn’t want to see a confirmation process that was very prolonged, very politicized, very distracting, and very disruptive,” Rice said, explaining her decision to remove her name from consideration.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney tried to shift the blame to the state department, noting that they also were presented with the same talking points — but the GOP had it’s target: Rice, a close adviser to Obama and one of his earliest supporters.
In a statement, Graham pledged to continue the investigation into the attack, but also said he “respect[s]” Rice’s decision to step aside.
While questions remain unanswered, and the perpetrators have yet to be brought to justice, Rice’s decision to step aside gives Republicans the scalp they’ve been seeking. The investigation will continue, GOP aides say, but without the bloodthirst.
“It’s a big victory for Republicans,” said one GOP aide. “We’re not done asking questions, but someone has been held accountable.”