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MATTHEWS: Is Susan Rice now a surrogate for the president, someone to take the punishment when others above her pay grade should be answering the
questions? Or is she accountable for going on national television knowing she can`t tell the whole truth because it`s classified?
Let`s begin with Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine. I guess it`s the toughest question in the world, Senator, and that is, do you believe that Susan Rice, the U.N. ambassador, knowingly covered up a breach of national security?
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Well, let me say this, Chris. Our purpose is to understand the security failure in Benghazi, what the administration told the American public about it and how we can learn lessons to keep our personnel safer in the future. So that`s my interest and goal in this situation.
I think (INAUDIBLE) and indeed, Ambassador Rice herself has admitted that
the information that she gave out on those Sunday shows was not accurate in
several crucial aspects. She says she relied on information that was given to her, but it`s obvious that she chose to emphasize some aspects and downplay others.
And frankly, I think the U.N. ambassador, along with the secretary of state, should be above politics and that she should have just said, No, I`m not going to go on those shows. It`s the wrong issue and the wrong time of year. I`ve got to maintain my credibility.
MATTHEWS: Do you know or believe that she was given classified materials
which conflicted with what she said on "MEET THE PRESS" and those other
COLLINS: The classified materials are different from the unclassified, but they`re not different when it comes to a discussion of many of the major elements.
What bothers me a great deal is the president of Libya himself was saying this was a terrorist attack, that they had arrested 50 people and that there had been al Qaeda influenced individuals from other countries that had come in and that it was premeditated and planned.
And I just don`t understand why the administration would have Susan Rice go
on television and say that the views, essentially, of the president of Libya just didn`t matter. She completely discounted them. That doesn`t make sense to me.
MATTHEWS: Well, what would be the -- you said -- you suggested she was behaving politically. Fair enough, if that`s the case. What would be the political purpose in denying the role of terrorism in this act, the central role of terrorism, organized terrorism, in the death of Ambassador Stevens? What would be her purpose politically in that?
COLLINS: I believe that the administration wanted to portray Libya as an
unqualified success story. And Ambassador Rice was one of the chief advocates of our involvement in Libya, so arguably had a personal stake in that, as well.
I think that it was contrary to the narrative of the administration to say that Libya was awash with weapons, that there was a growing al Qaeda presence, that there were training camps for Islamic extremists, particularly near Benghazi, and that there had been 274 security incidents in just the past 13 months, five of which were -- I mean, one out of five were in Benghazi, including an attempt on the life of the British ambassador that caused the British to withdraw their consulate from Benghazi.
So I think it was contrary to the success story the administration wanted to portray when it comes to Libya.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to the facts, as you know them now. Was there a
role played by that video, that anti-Islamic video made in California, in this horror story? Did it play a role?
COLLINS: It may have inspired some of the people who later entered the compound, but I have not seen evidence that it was the cause of the violent
attack on our personnel in Benghazi that cost four Americans their lives. And certainly, Ambassador Rice`s statement on ABC News when she said it was the direct result of the video was not accurate. And today she told me that she did not intend to say what she said on ABC.
MATTHEWS: I want you to listen to something. This was in "The New York Times" -- it was in today -- about what we know now of the attacks in Benghazi. This is "The New York Times," and straight reporting.
"On-the-ground accounts indicate that Ms. Rice`s description of the attack,
though wrong in some respects, was accurate in others. Witnesses to the
assault said it was carried out by members of Ansar al Sharia, the militant
group, without any warning or protest in retaliation for an American-made
video mocking the Prophet Mohammed." Is that the truth, as you know it?
COLLINS: It`s partially the truth. When you look at what happened -- and I`ve reviewed tapes, I`ve reviewed classified materials, I`ve sat through hours of briefings -- there were some people who no doubt came onto the compound not only to loot it but because they were angry about the video. But that is not the primary cause of the assault on the compound.
COLLINS: If you look at what happened, there was clearly no protest, and the administration concedes that now. There was no protests that preceded the assault on the compound. And the fact is that that was known prior to September 16th, when Ambassador Rice went on those shows. There was conflicting information. I will totally, readily concede that.
But there was reporting and information that said that there wasn`t any protest, including interviews with people who had been there on the ground.
So for Ambassador Rice or any other administration official to maintain with such certitude that there was no -- that there was a protest and that the assault was primarily linked to the video just does not hold up.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you so much for coming on HARDBALL, Senator Susan
Collins. Thank you so much. Of Maine. Now joining us is...
COLLINS: Thank you.
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