The release of e-mails related to the administration’s response to the Benghazi attack show how little of a role United States Ambassador Susan Rice played in the entire controversy, making it easier for the President Obama to tap his longtime friend as National Security Adviser sometime over the next three years.
The 100 pages of e-mails released by the administration earlier this week illustrated that Rice and her office were only brought into the discussion of the “talking points” about Benghazi at the very end of a long process between the State Department, CIA and the White House in describing how four Americans were killed at a diplomatic outpost in Libya. Even then, Rice’s aides were simply informed of what the administration’s narrative would be, with no power to shape it.
In effect, Rice was playing a similar role to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who gives voice to ideas, messages and policies of the administration that he often is not personally creating.
This news could help the future of Rice. Republicans last year essentially blocked her ascension to Secretary of State, blaming Rice for misleading them and the public through a series of interviews on Sunday morning talk shows in which she suggested the attack was in part the result of rioters angry about an anti-Muslim video. U.S. officials later concluded what happened at Benghazi was planned by extremists with links to terrorist groups. (The final version of the talking points say little about the video or terrorist groups, instead emphasizing it was a “spontaneous” attack, which later turned out to be inaccurate as well.)
Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), suggested Rice was an integral figure in the administration’s initial description of what happened in Benghazi and turned her potential nomination to run the State Department into a test of wills with President Obama. The president, wary of such a heated debate only weeks after winning reelection, opted to pick John Kerry as Secretary of State instead, as Republicans would (and later did) confirm Kerry easily.
But administration aides at the time floated Rice’s name as a likely candidate for National Security Adviser, both because she is a longtime friend and adviser of Obama and because she handled the Secretary of State process with “grace,” as one Obama aide described it.
Obama aides emphasize the president has not yet decided if Rice will replace National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, who has not announced when he will depart but is not expected to serve throughout the president’s second term.
And National Security Adviser is not a position that requires Senate confirmation, so Obama could have selected Rice anyway. But these e-mails remove any doubt about her limited role in Benghazi, making it easier for Obama to promote Rice if he chooses.
Follow Perry Bacon on Twitter at @perrybaconjr.