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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript


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BLITZER: A bunch of Senate Republicans are digging in their heels over the possible nomination of the U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, as the next secretary of state. They complain about her statements after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. Today, a key Republican moderate, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, echoed some of those sentiments.

Sen. Collins is the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. She's joining us now from Capitol Hill. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R) MAINE: Good evening.

BLITZER: All right. So, you've now heard directly from her. You had some concerns going in. Were those concerns allayed?

COLLINS: Ambassador Rice was able to answer some of my concerns, but not all of them. It still seems to me that the information that she conveyed on those Sunday talk shows is not consistent with some of the reporting to which she had access. And thus, it painted a misleading picture of what really happened in Benghazi.

Keep in mind that she was on those shows on September 16th, four days after the attacks. The reports were conflicting, but by that time, individuals who had actually been within the complex had been interviewed by the FBI, there was the report from the Libyan president and there was other information as well.

BLITZER: Is it your opinion that she was deliberately misleading the American public or that she was just reading from those talking points she had received from the U.S. intelligence community?

COLLINS: Ambassador Rice not only received the unclassified talking points which are very brief and not very helpful, but she also had access to classified information in the president's daily intelligence brief. So, she had a wide range of information and also received telephone briefing. I asked her about that today.

I think what she chose to do was to put more emphasis on those reports that supported the narrative of the nonexistent protest of the video being the direct or primary cause of the attacks on our people rather than painting the fuller picture which was much more complex.

BLITZER: And do you believe she was doing that for political reasons? Remember, September 11th, we were all still in the midst of the presidential campaign. And the administration had some political objectives during those final few weeks of the campaign. Do you think she was doing this for partisan political purposes?

COLLINS: I can't go that far. But what I will say is I don' think the secretary of state or the U.N. ambassador should be involved in going on television, presenting this kind of case with such certitude when, in fact, there's such ambiguity at that point about what really happened and playing essentially the role of the administration's defender. Those two positions should be above politics. I think that's why Secretary Clinton refused to go on the shows. It's my understanding that she was the one who was first requested. In fact, Ambassador Rice told me that. So, I think she just should have said no and that someone from the White House should have represented the views that the administration wanted put forth those days.

BLITZER: I know this is a difficult decision for you because you introduced her when she was being -- during her confirmation hearings in the Senate as to an effect somebody with a close connection to your home state of Maine. You were there. You introduced her to your fellow senators.

How difficult personally would this be for you, Senator Collins, if you decided if the president nominates her to vote against her confirmation?

COLLINS: It would be very difficult. I did introduce her to the formulations committee for her current job. I was asked to do so. And I readily agreed even though I'd only met her once or twice. But I knew her to be an intelligent and talented person. And I still believe that she's an intelligent, talented person.

But it's important that the secretary of state enjoy credibility around the world with Congress and here in our country as well. And I am concerned that Susan Rice's credibility may have been damaged by the misinformation that was presented that day. That's one reason, as I said, that I wish she had just told the White House no, you should send a political person to be on those Sunday shows.

BLITZER: And if John Kerry were the nominee, would you have any problems with him as the next secretary of state?

COLLINS: I think John Kerry would be an excellent choice. He obviously has had many years of experience. He's traveled around the world and is respected for his knowledge in foreign policy. And I would predict that he would be easily confirmed.

BLITZER: Senator Collins, thanks very much for joining us.

COLLINS: Thank you, Wolf.


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