Collins said Rice told her she was not involved directly in turning down the request for improved security. The Maine senator said that in light of Rice’s position, she had to be aware of the general threats and U.S. Ambassador Prudence Bushnell’s requests for security upgrades in Kenya.
Review boards headed by former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. William J. Crowe after the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania did not find reasonable cause that any U.S. employee breached his duty in connecting with the bombings. Rice was not blamed.
However, Crowe said the boards believed there was a “collective failure” by several administrations and Congress over a decade to invest adequately to shore up vulnerable U.S. diplomatic missions around the world.
Rice has emerged as the front-runner for the top job at State, though Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., passed over for the job in 2008, is considered a strong alternative.
In a clear message to the White House, Collins said Kerry would have no problem winning Senate confirmation.
“I think John Kerry be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues,” Collins said.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who is in line to become the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, was more circumspect about Rice’s chances after his own meeting with the ambassador.
The GOP senator suggested that Obama “take a deep breath and nominate the person he really believes is the very best person for secretary of state, regardless of relationships.”
Corker, who traveled to Libya in early October, was highly critical of the administration and the intelligence community, saying that “the whole issue of Benghazi has been a tawdry affair.”
Democrats have rallied to defend Rice, casting the Republican criticism as political scapegoating.
“You know it’s a shame to create a sideshow that seems, I think, very clearly to be very political out of something that really has no bearing on what happened in Benghazi,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, called the criticism a “transparent attempt” to deny Obama a potential Cabinet choice.
The issue remained at the forefront as the Senate, in debating a defense policy bill, approved an amendment by McCain that would lead to an increase of up to 1,000 Marine Corps personnel to provide security at U.S. diplomatic missions around the world.