Susan Rice, US ambassador to the United Nations, rejected criticism of her remarks about the deadly attack on an American diplomatic mission in Libya, saying they were based on initial intelligence community assessments.
Rice, favored to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, has kept a low profile since being criticized by Republicans for her televised description of the Sept. 11 attack as developing from a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islamic video. The Obama administration later revised its early assessment and called the assault an organized terrorist attack.
"When discussing the attacks against our facilities in Benghazi, I relied solely and squarely on the information provided to me by the intelligence community," Rice told reporters Thursday in New York. "I made clear that the information was preliminary and that our investigations would give us the definitive answers."
Republican lawmakers have said Rice misled the public by saying on five Sunday television talk shows on Sept. 16 that the attack in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans unfolded from a demonstration that was "hijacked" by militants.
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have threatened to block Rice's possible nomination to replace Clinton. McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Rice's comments "not very bright" and vowed to oppose her if President Obama nominates her.
Rice on Thursday responded to McCain's criticism for the first time.
"I do think that some of the statements he's made about me have been unfounded, but I look forward to having the opportunity at the appropriate time to discuss all of this with him," she said. "I have great respect for Senator McCain and his service to our country. I always have, and I always will."
Obama has since come out strongly in defense of Rice, a close confidante since his first run for president in 2008 when she was his foreign policy adviser. At a Nov. 14 news conference, Obama said his UN envoy had done "exemplary work" and "to besmirch her reputation is outrageous."
Acting CIA Director Michael Morell told lawmakers last week during closed-door briefings on the Benghazi attack that Rice's televised account was based on a preliminary agency assessment that the episode stemmed from a spontaneous demonstration, spontaneous protest, according to Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff of California and Charles "Dutch" Ruppersberger of Maryland.