NBC's Williams to Rice: 'Were You Set Up? Were You a Victim of Circumstance?'

In an exclusive interview on Thursday's NBC Rock Center with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice following her withdrawal of her name to be secretary of state, host Brian Williams worked to portray her as a victim of unwarranted political attacks: "She's been under withering attack for weeks....Were you set up? Were you a victim of circumstance? Bad data? Bad information?...Are you blameless in all this?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Referring to her Sunday show statements on the Benghazi attack, Rice responded: "I'm not a victim. I wasn't set up....I don't think anybody 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 the United States government had at the time."

The desire by Williams to label Rice a victim mimicked chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd appearing on MSNBC on Thursday, moments after the news broke, to proclaim: "It was all driven, in many cases, by some conservative outlets....she sort of became a victim of this."

After Rice claimed she did nothing wrong, Williams actually did have a challenging follow up: "So was it, if you'll excuse the barnyard phrase, garbage in, garbage out that morning?" Rice asserted: "It wasn't garbage, in retrospect. I mean there was one piece of what I said that turned out to be wrong. There was not a demonstration....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 many months."

Williams declared: "Rice became a political target for Republicans during and after the presidential campaign, especially for Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham....the President pushed back at them and said they were going after the wrong person."

In the midst of the interview, Williams injected biographical fluff about Rice: "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."

Wrapping up the segment, Williams made a point to tout President Obama's continued support of Rice: "...in an interview with our NBC station in Sacramento, President Obama said he could not be prouder of her and said Susan Rice will indeed continue to be a member of his national security team."


Here is a full transcript of the December 13 interview:

10:16PM ET

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Until she walked into this studio late this afternoon prepared to tell her story, Susan Rice, our U.S. ambassador to the U.N., was widely considered to be among those under foremost consideration as the next secretary of state. Today, she wrote the President, then they talked by phone, she told him to withdraw her name from consideration. She's been under withering attack for weeks. It was something of a showdown for the President. Here now, part of our conversation after she decided to stay in her current job.

SUSAN RICE: 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 politicized, very distracting, and very disruptive. Because there are so many things we need to get done as a country.

WILLIAMS: She is 48, a mother of two, stationed in New York while her family stays in Washington. She's already been an undersecretary of state, she is now U.N. 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?

RICE: I think I was under serious consideration. I can't obviously know what the President was thinking each step of the way. But I am – I am very grateful that he would consider me for this. That is an honor of tremendous proportions.

WILLIAMS: Did you want the job?

RICE: I would have 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 to, in my field, serve at the highest possible level?

WILLIAMS: 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 that killed four Americans, including our ambassador. And that weekend, when Susan Rice represented the administration on the Sunday morning talk shows, she gave the very same talking points she'd been given by the White House, and they were almost instantly disputed.

RICE: 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.

WILLIAMS: When they write the book on this, what do you think went wrong?

RICE: Well, Brian, it's hard to say what went wrong. I have tried all of 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 have 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 something much more nefarious, it was never indeed the case nor my intention.

WILLIAMS: Were you – were you set up? Were you a victim of circumstance? Bad data? Bad information?

RICE: I'm not a victim. I wasn't set up. You know, Brian, I think it's best, 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, or the people who know me, know me to be. So, it's – it's a bit strange. We are 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 that Ambassador Chris Stevens, who is 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.

WILLIAMS: Are you blameless in all this?

RICE: Brian, I don't think anybody 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 the United States government had at the time.

WILLIAMS: So was it, if you'll excuse the barnyard phrase, garbage in, garbage out that morning?

RICE: It wasn't garbage, in retrospect. I mean there was one piece of what I said that turned out to be wrong. 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 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 many months.

WILLIAMS: Susan Rice became a political target for Republicans during and after the presidential campaign, especially for Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: And if you don't know what happened, just say you don't know what happened.

WILLIAMS: But then at a news conference last month, the President pushed back at them and said they were going after the wrong person.

RICE: If Senator McCain, and Senator Graham, and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me.

WILLIAMS: You called the boss today with your decision, what was that phone call with the President like?

RICE: It was very warm. It was very relaxed. 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.

WILLIAMS: And just tonight, in an interview with our NBC station in Sacramento, President Obama said he could not be prouder of her and said Susan Rice will indeed continue to be a member of his national security team.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC