Colombia Ambassador Pick’s Testimony Spurs Questions About Role in Benghazi Aftermath

Macmanus testified in front of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday

Sen. Marco Rubio
Sen. Marco Rubio / Getty Images
March 9, 2018

Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) wants more answers from Joseph Macmanus, a career foreign service officer nominated for the post of U.S. ambassador to Colombia, about his role in helping former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton respond to the 2012 Benghazi attack.

"The senator remains concerned about the ability of the nominee to effectively represent the United States as ambassador to Colombia," a Rubio spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon late Thursday, a day after Macmanus testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"The confirmation process is still ongoing, and the nominee will have an opportunity to address further questions," Rubio's spokesman added.

Rubio is one of several Republican senators who have taken issue with Macmanus's nomination over his close ties to Hillary Clinton during her tenure at State, amid other concerns.

Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah have voiced repeated opposition to Macmanus's nomination, and a Senate aide has said at least one senator plans to block Macmanus's nomination from a full Senate floor vote.

MacManus served as Clinton's executive assistant for several years and was part of her inner circle of three top aides. His role involved traveling with her and working closely with Cheryl Mills, Clinton's longtime aide and chief of staff, to help manage the professional office and staff. He also served for six months in the same role for Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush's second secretary of State.

During a Wednesday Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Macmanus's nomination, Rubio pressed the nominee on exactly when, on the night of the incident, he knew the Benghazi attack was terrorism.

"When did you know the attacks were terrorism and not related to anti-American protests and when did you first inform the secretary of state of that fact?" Rubio asked Macmanus.

Macmanus said he called the incursion on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi a terrorist attack almost immediately upon learning about it because he believed that's what it was. However, he said his early impression was not a "legal determination."

Internal State Department emails show intelligence reports had told him and other top Clinton aides within hours of the attack's beginning that Ansar al Sharia, a terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda, had claimed responsibility.

"I used the term terrorist attack because that's what I judged it to be – the term that I used to describe what was taking place," Macmanus responded. "It was not a legal determination. It was not based on an amass of evidence or analysis, it was the term that I used to describe what I saw taking place."

Macmanus also noted that he deemed the attack terrorism "within minutes" of hearing about it.

Rubio then gave Macmanus a chance to state for the record that he never purposely misled the American people about the nature of the attack.

"Never," MacManus said.

After the hearing, Rubio told a Spanish-language newspaper that he still has many outstanding questions about MacManus's role in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack, although he said he didn't see a problem with Macmanus's responses when it comes to handling Colombia's political issues.

"In terms of what Colombia politics is, I do not think there is a problem with his answers," Rubio told the Colombian news outlet, according to a translated transcript of the interview. "In terms of what has to do with his role in the Benghazi case, surely we are going to have many questions. We will see how it develops in the coming days." 

Rubio also said senators need to "investigate everything to be sure that all of [Macmanus's] answers were correct."

"This is a hot topic in the United States," he said, referring to "many of his colleagues" who he said are "on edge with the role he played during that episode and we have to learn more about that."

"Also, there will more questions from my other colleagues who are not on the committee," he said.

Rubio's line of questioning during the hearing was aimed at trying to determine if Macmanus has any culpability for supporting or failing to debunk the Obama administration's initial public explanation that the Benghazi attack was the result of a simultaneous reaction to an anti-Islamic video.

Then-National Security Advisor Susan Rice said it was a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islamic video when she hit the Sunday TV talk show circuit the weekend after the attack.

Admitting that the attack was a premeditated act of terror that took planning and execution would have prompted immediate questions about Clinton's leadership and why she didn't take more precautions to protect the embassy.

Months before the attack, there were a stream of diplomatic and intelligence reports indicating the security situation throughout the country had deteriorated sharply.

The British, for instance, pulled out of Benghazi completely in mid-June after the British ambassador's convoy was hit by rocket-propelled grenade, wounding a British medic and driver.

Internal State Department emails, obtained by Judicial Watch, show Macmanus was one of three top Clinton aides who knew the attack was terrorism within minutes of it happening.

Additionally, State Department emails later confirmed an ABC News report that the so-called "talking points" Rice used for her media appearances were initially written by the CIA but underwent 12 rounds of revisions and substantial changes were made at the request of several State Department officials.

The CIA's early versions of the talking points referenced Ansar al-Sharia and previous CIA warnings about terror threats in Benghazi. Those references were removed in the final version.

Several Republican critics of the Macmanus nomination would like to know if he played any role in the internal Obama administration dialogue about the talking points.

MacManus now serves as a top adviser to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is strongly supporting his nomination and was able to push it through despite some opposition from officials within the White House, according to several knowledgeable sources.

The day of Macmanus;s hearing, Lee tweeted that he shares Rubio's concerns with the Macmanus nomination.

"He is not the right person to head our embassy in Colombia, a critical U.S. ally in the region," Lee tweeted.