This morning on "Starting Point," Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) addresses the criticism of Amb. Susan Rice in the wake of the September attack on a U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. He explains why he signed a letter with 97 lawmakers in the House standing against Rice as a possible candidate for Secretary of State.
"From where I sit right now, the credibility for Susan Rice to be our Secretary of State has been damaged by this," Rep. Burgess says. "It may have been damaged by the administration itself. It may have been an error for the administration to put her out there rather than someone from the State Department or rather than a campaign spokesperson."
"But what it appeared to - to the great masses out here is that Susan Rice was put out there to place a story line into the - into the print or into the national media that was, in fact, inconsistent with the facts. And that is something that has been very, very difficult for her to get around," he adds.
Rep. Burgess also criticizes media outlets for not showing more scrutiny in the days after the attack in Benghazi.
"I don't understand why - why you in the media have not been more critical of the fact that your outlets were used in a way to put forward information that, you know, everybody now believes was not correct and we believe it was known that it was not correct at the time it was put out there. So that's what's so troubling about this," Rep. Burgess says.
Soledad counters that media outlets in general have been working to figure out what happened in Benghazi, and as is now reported members of the intelligence community have said that they gave Rice talking points that were altered. Soledad asks if the intelligence community should bear the bulk of the blame.
"Well, it had to fit within the narrative of the President's campaign at the time that al Qaeda was on the run. It was no longer a threat. So to have put someone out there, saying al Qaeda and Ansar al Sharia was responsible for this or was sponsored by al Qaeda that would have been - they would have fit with the narrative that had been really the main talking point since the Democratic convention," Rep. Burgess says.
Soledad asks if race or sexism has anything to do with the criticism against Amb. Rice. Rep. Burgess says that's "absolutely false."
Rush transcript available after the jump.
Let's talk about the battle over the talking points of the U.S. consulate attack in Benghazi. Who knew what, when? What was of the truth, the whole truth and who told the whole truth, if ever? And 97 House Republicans standing up against Susan Rice as a possible candidate for Secretary of State because they say she did not tell the truth about Benghazi.
Congressman Michael Burgess is a Republican from the great state of Texas, according to Will Cain. It's nice to have you with us, sir. Thank you for talking with us, appreciate it. Did you sign this letter?
REP. MICHAEL BURGESS, (R) TEXAS: Good morning, Soledad.
O'BRIEN: Good morning to you, too. Are you one of the 97 who signed this letter?
BURGESS: Yes, I am. I've got to tell you that Sunday when the - I don't know the four or five interviews occurred, you just knew something wasn't right as you were watching that.
First off, why is our Ambassador to the United Nations is the one on talking about this in the first place? Did we not have anyone available from the State Department or from the administration itself? So it was a little unsettling to have the Ambassador herself out there on the - on the shows. And you know, I frankly I don't understand why - why you in the media have not been more critical of the fact that your outlets were used in a way to put forward information that, you know, everybody now believes was not correct and we believe it was known that it was not correct at the time it was put out there. So that's what's so troubling about this.
O'BRIEN: You know what's interesting about that - yes and you know and I think what we have been trying to do - and by we, I think I speak media in general, is like figure out, so what has happened? What was the timeline and who did know what, when and who gave what talking points to whom?
And what we seem to know now, in fact, it looks as if that the intelligence was wrong and that the folks in the intelligence community have said that they gave the talking points to Susan Rice and they - they changed those talking points so that she wouldn't talk about al Qaeda. She was talking about extremists.
So to me, some of the takeaway seems to be the intelligence community should bear the bulk of the blame. You don't see it that way? Why not?
BURGESS: Well, it had to fit within the narrative of the President's campaign at the time that al Qaeda was on the run. It was no longer a threat. So to have put someone out there, saying al Qaeda and Ansar al Sharia was responsible for this or was sponsored by al Qaeda that would have been - they would have fit with the narrative that had been really the main talking point since the Democratic convention.
BURGESS: So in my mind, I think that I think was influenced it.
O'BRIEN: So let me just clarify that. But wasn't that the CIA change, right? They're the ones who edited the talking points so that it wouldn't say al Qaeda. And I think they used the word to protect their sources, it would say "extremist". So they made that edit, which to me again seems to go back to the intelligence community.
It's not that Susan Rice got a long list of talking points and said, "Ooh, I don't want to say al Qaeda. Let me cross that out. I'm going to use the word extremist." She was given talking points that had removed that word "al Qaeda" and put "extremist". Isn't that correct?
BURGESS: Well really the big question is who in the administration said Susan Rice should be the person out there talking about this in the first place?
O'BRIEN: So you just don't like her?
BURGESS: And look the more we learn about this there was the real time information - no. The real time information that our - that our consulate was under attack. And I'll tell you what - what bothers me is that someone in the White House situation room or at the State Department or at the Pentagon said it's not worth it. We can't go in and help them.
And to understand how long the attack continued, that's really troublesome, the fact that the United States cannot respond within an hour's time to an attack like that on its own State Department? I mean, that's just incredible information to - to give to the rest of the world and I think if I were a member of the diplomatic corps, I would be troubled.
O'BRIEN: I'm sure they are. And I think that when they talked to General Petraeus he talked a lot about sort of the intelligence. Again, it sort of all goes back to the intelligence for me.
Let me ask you a question though.
O'BRIEN: I have asked others before how this does not compare, the Susan Rice issue to the Condoleezza Rice issue on weapons of mass destruction. She was also wrong when she was the national security advisor, right? She had information and she talked, I remember, to Wolf Blitzer about you know let's not have the smoking gun become a mushroom cloud.
And then fast forward three years in 2005 when she was up to be Secretary of State, it was Lindsey Graham who was furious that the Democrats were pushing back. It was Senator John McCain who was furious that the Democrats were pushing back on Condoleezza Rice to be Secretary of State. She was wrong on weapons of mass destruction. How is this different?
BURGESS: Well the difference is the scrutiny provided by our - our free press in this country. Condoleezza Rice was exposed to withering criticism by the press. I don't see that happening now. Maybe I've missed something in the talking points, but I don't see that happening.
O'BRIEN: So, let me –
BURGESS: The ambassador of the United Nations should not have been the person on the Sunday shows. Someone from the administration or the State of Department should have been.
O'BRIEN: So you're confusing me there for a moment. When you say the scrutiny on the press - are you saying five days after comments about weapons of mass destruction, that - that you feel like the media was picking apart Condoleezza Rice? I don't think that's true, sir. I think that most people say that is not the case. That it took a long time. I'm talking about three years before she was up for Secretary of State.
I - I see, if you're blaming the press, how does it go back to Susan Rice?
BURGESS: That's a different situation with different timelines.
O'BRIEN: OK so how does it go back to the Susan Rice?
BURGESS: They're different situations with different timeline.
O'BRIEN: How is she to blame is my question.
BURGESS: Again, first - first thing is I do not understand who in the administration thought that this would be a good idea and why. What was their reasoning behind that? No one has answered that question.
O'BRIEN: OK. I think that's a valid question. How do you blame Susan Rice for that?
BURGESS: I've written letters to the President. I've asked the State Department to discuss this with me.
O'BRIEN: How do you - what Susan Rice did was say something that was incorrect. We know now, the intelligence community says we gave her the talking points. The information, the Intel was incorrect. How does that go back to blame Susan Rice? And my question of course is because you're one of the 97 people who signed saying that you believe that her misleading statements causes irreparable damage to her credibility and she should not be Secretary of State. And I don't see the difference between Condoleezza Rice situation.
BURGESS: It does damage her credibility. Now look, you know as well as I that House members do not get a vote on presidential appointments. But in the purpose of this letter was to let our senators know this is something that we believe deserves their scrutiny. And I think you - And I think you - you would want that.
O'BRIEN: Of course. You know hey, I'm all about scrutiny. But I guess I like consistency, too. But you were not calling for more scrutiny and you weren't saying that this is - that the fact that Condoleezza Rice was wrong on weapons of mass destruction was going to damage her - her credibility as Secretary of State.
You know again, John McCain and Lindsey Graham were supporting that. It seems just contradictory to me.
BURGESS: Well, you'll have to - you'll have take that up with Senator McCain and Senator Graham. But the fact of the matter is –
BURGESS: - from where I sit right now, the credibility for Susan Rice to be our Secretary of State has been damaged by this. It may have been damaged by the administration itself. It may have been an error for the administration to put her out there rather than someone from the State Department or rather than a campaign spokesperson.
But what it appeared to - to the great masses out here is that Susan Rice was put out there to place a story line into the - into the print or into the national media that was, in fact, inconsistent with the facts. And that is something that has been very, very difficult for her to get around.
O'BRIEN: I'm completely out of time but I've got to throw a quick question to you. We talked to Congressman Clyburn. And he said, listen, "Because she's black and because she's a woman that you guys are doing this", meaning the 97 Republicans who signed this.
BURGESS: Yes and you know that's - that's absolutely false. I don't know where senator - or Representative Clyburn gets that, his information. I will just tell you he is factually incorrect.
O'BRIEN: Michael Burgess, is Republican Congressman and a doctor. Dr. Burgess joining us from - from Dallas, Texas. It's nice to have you sir, thank you. I appreciate it.
BURGESS: Thank you.