Washington (CNN) — After facing criticism from Republican lawmakers surrounding her characterization of the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice will hold meetings on Capitol Hill about Libya Tuesday morning.
Rice will meet with Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire – three lawmakers who have been sharply critical of Rice’s initial comments regarding the Benghazi attack.
Asked Tuesday what he expected to learn from the meeting with Rice, McCain said, “Whatever Ambassador Rice wants to tell me. She’s the one that asked for the meeting. I didn’t.”
Ayotte also said Rice’s staff contacted her office about setting up the meeting. As to what she expects out of the meeting, Ayotte said, “I think a big part of it will be about her representations of what happened at Benghazi.”
Acting CIA director Mike Morrell will attend meetings later this week.
McCain, Graham, and Ayotte led the criticism of Rice after her television appearances days after the September attack, which killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. They and other Republicans said they would block the nomination of Rice, should she be advanced by President Barack Obama to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has said she will leave her post when a replacement is ready to be installed.
Asked by CNN Tuesday whether he trusted Rice to be secretary of state, McCain said the issue of Benghazi “needs to be resolved,” but that he wasn’t going to “make a judgment as to whether she should be secretary of state or not until she’s been nominated.”
Later this week, Rice will meet with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the top Republican on the homeland security committee, which is investigating the Benghazi attack. Collins has not been as critical of Rice as McCain, Graham and Ayotte but has said Rice needs to explain what happened.
This weekend, McCain expressed more openness to her potentially filling that post, saying he would “give everyone the benefit of explaining their position and the actions that they took. I’d be glad to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with her.”
He denied Tuesday those remarks reflected a “softening” of his position on Rice.
Rice has not been offered the position but is suspected to top the list of possible successors. At a press conference after his re-election, Obama called McCain and Graham’s criticism of Rice “outrageous,” adding that if they “and others want to go after someone they should go after me.”
The ambassador said she was using de-classified talking points that did not reference the attack as a pre-meditated terror attack, and the spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence later said those talking points were prepared by the intelligence community, and not modified by other governmental agencies.
“When discussing the attacks on our facilities in Benghazi, I relied solely and squarely on the information provided to me by the intelligence community. I made clear that the information was preliminary,” Rice told reporters last Wednesday.
McCain charged on the floor of the U.S. Senate hours before Obama’s post-election press conference that “this president and this administration has either been guilty of colossal incompetence or engaged in a cover up, neither of which are acceptable to the American people.”
Republicans have questioned why the administration used Rice as their spokeswoman, rather than an official more closely involved with the investigation, as well as why the U.S. timeline included a protest surrounding a controversial anti-Islam web video, which now appears to have not been a factor.
On Monday, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a GOP member of the Foreign Relations Committee who recently said Rice was “not fitting” to be Secretary of State in part because of comments on the attack, appeared to shift his views about Rice.
Inhofe said Rice may have been “thrown under the bus” because she wasn’t given the full details of what happened before going on television.
“I assumed she had full knowledge of everything that went on,” Inhofe said about his initial criticism of Rice. “I’m not at all convinced of that now. I think she very well could have been thrown under the bus.”
Inhofe said Monday he has had no request to meet with Rice at this point but that he would be glad to meet with her.
By Dan Lothian, Ted Barrett, Eric Fiegel, and Gregory Wallace contributed to this report.
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