Ambassador Susan Rice Visits NBC's ROCK CENTER WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS
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Following an announcement that she had withdrawn her name from consideration for the position of Secretary of State, Ambassador Susan Rice sat down with NBC's BrIan Williams for a "Rock Center with BrIan Williams" exclusive to discuss the reasoning behind her decision.
NBC broke the news of Rice's decision at 3:42pm ET in a special report anchored by Williams on the NBC broadcast network, MSNBC, and NBCNews.com.
A transcript of the interview from NBC News "Rock Center with BrIan Williams," December 13, 2012 follows:
Today I made the decision that it was the best thing for our country - for the American people that I not continue to be considered by the President for nomination as Secretary of State. Because I didn't want to see a confirmation process that was very prolonged -- very politicize, very distracting, and very disruptive. Because there are so many things we need to get done as a country.
She is 48, a mother of two, stationed in New York while her family stays in Washington... She's already been an Under Secretary of State, she is now UN Ambassador and she just came very close to becoming the next secretary of state.
What evidence do you have of how seriously you were under consideration? Were you it?
I think I was his-- under serious consideration. I can't, obviously know - what the President was thinking each step of the way. But I am very grateful that he would consider me for this. That is an honor of tremendous proportions.
Did you want the job?
I would've been very honored to serve in that job. Just as I'm delighted to do what I'm doing. But yeah, sure. How can you not want a -- in my field, serve at the highest possible level?
Susan Rice was a super-achiever from a young age ... a star basketball player, high school valedictorian, then a Truman Scholar at Stanford, a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. At 33, she was the youngest-ever assistant Secretary of State.
It was something that happened this past September 11th in Benghazi, Libya that changed her trajectory and a lot more. The attack killed 4 Americans, including our Ambassador. And that weekend when Susan Rice represented the administration on the Sunday morning talk shows, she gave the same talking points she'd been given by the White House, and they were almost instantly disputed.
"Meet the Press" sound bite:
"Putting together the best information that we have available to us today, our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo."
When they write the book on this, what do you think went wrong?
Well, Brian, it's hard to say what went wrong. I have tried all my life as a public servant to do the utmost for our country and for our people. When I went on the Sunday shows on September 16th, I was doing just as I've always done -- providing the best information available to me and available to our government at the time. I was very careful to explain that the information was preliminary and it could change. And yet, I think -- it was -- misconstrued and contorted into -- to something -- much more nefarious. It was never, indeed -- the case, nor -- my intention.
Were you set up? Were you a victim of circumstance, bad data, bad information?
I'm not a victim. I wasn't set up. You know, Brian, I think it's best, I -- you know, when you live through something like this-- from my point of view, it's almost-- an out-of-body experience. You know, I know who I am. I see myself on the television screen in all my different outfits, and I hear things said about me that I know don't bear any relation to who I am. Or what the-- or the people-- who know me-- know me to be. So, it's-- it's a bit strange.
We're in a sad place, frankly, when national security, national security officials -- who are sitting in their jobs serving the American people every day, and potential candidates for secretary of state get caught up in a political vortex.
And my greatest regret, to be honest, is the Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was a valued colleague of mine, and our three other colleagues-- what happened to them and why, has been lost in all of this debate over talking points and over me.
Are you blameless in all this?
Brian, I-- I don't think anybody is-- is ever wholly blameless. But-- I didn't do anything wrong. I didn't mislead. I didn't misrepresent. I did the best with the information that the United States government had at the time.
So, was it, if you'll excuse the barnyard phrase, garbage in and garbage out that morning?
It wasn't garbage in retrospect. I mean, there was one piece of what I said that turned out to be wrong. It was-- there was not a demonstration. But what I said was that-- there were extremists who came to our facility with heavy weapons. I indicated when asked that they could be al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliates or Libyan-based extremists. And that they then attacked the embassy in-- in a very violent fashion.
I indicated, and this still remains-- our assessment, that this-- arose on short notice. It wasn't something that had been pre-planned for many weeks or-- or many months.
Susan Rice became a political target for republicans during and after the presidential campaign... Especially for Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
"And if you don't know what happened just say you don't know what happened."
But then at a news conference last month, the President pushed back at them and said they were going after the wrong person.
Sot - President Obama
"If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after someone, they should go after me."
You called the boss today-- with your decision. What was that phone call with the president like?
It was very warm. It was-- very relaxed. I-- I think he understood and appreciated the reasons that-- I made this decision. I think-- you know-- we reaffirmed that-- we are going to keep doing our best together, and I look forward to being a key member as I have been, of his national security team.
David Corvo is the senior executive producer, Alexandra Wallace is the executive producer and BrIan Williams is the anchor and managing editor of "Rock Center with BrIan Williams" (Thursdays at 10p/9c). Follow us at RockCenterNBC.com, facebook.com/RockCenterNBC and @RockCenterNBC.