Five days after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Susan Rice appeared on "Face the Nation" to give the public an update on the available information. She explained that it was too early to draw "definitive conclusions," but the "best information we have to date" suggested the violence "began spontaneously ... as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo" in response to the anti-Islam internet video.
The ambassador then added, "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 effort with heavy weapons." Asked about a possible al Qaeda role, Rice said this was unclear, explaining, "I think this is one of the things we'll have to determine."
For John McCain and other increasingly-hysterical Obama administration critics, Rice was lying and her use of the word "spontaneous" is itself an outrageous scandal. It's not altogether clear why this is causing far-right apoplexy, but this is where we find ourselves at this point.
In an interesting twist, CBS News obtained the CIA talking points given to Rice in preparation of her interview.
CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan says the talking points, which were also given to members of the House intelligence committee, make no reference to terrorism being a likely factor in the assault, which left U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead. [...]
The CIA's talking points read as follows: "The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the US Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the US diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations."
In other words, what Rice said is, almost to the syllable, exactly what the combined judgment of the intelligence community believed as of the time of her interview. She wasn't lying; she wasn't incompetent; and she wasn't covering anything up.
Yes, the CIA assessment later changed as more information became available, but that only bolsters what Rice said at the time -- that the search for answers was ongoing.
McCain's smear campaign simply isn't based on facts. The senator owes Rice an apology.