EYE OF THE STORM

Obama’s for­mer aide Rice again at cen­ter of con­tro­versy

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN BOYLAN

Inside the clas­si­cal lime­stone State Depart­ment head­quar­ters, Amer­ica’s diplo­mats learn state­craft, eti­quette and strat­egy — and gen­er­ally are dis­cour­aged from use of the mid­dle fin­ger as a ne­go­ti­at­ing tool. Roughly two decades ago, Su­san Rice, the youngest as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state in his­tory, used hers in a meet­ing with vet­eran U.S. diplo­mat and ar­chi­tect of the 1995 Bos­nia peace ac­cords Richard Hol­brooke. Ac­cord­ing to var­i­ous ac­counts, the dis­pute was a clas­sic ter­ri­to­rial bat­tle be­tween two volatile per­son­al­i­ties.

The over­achiev­ing Ms. Rice re­garded Mr. Hol­brooke as a med­dling el­der. Mr. Hol­brooke, then the U.S. am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, re­port­edly didn’t flinch at the ges­ture and dis­missed Ms. Rice as an up­start who lacked re­spect for her col­leagues and the in­sti­tu­tion she served.

As his­tory would have it, Ms. Rice went on to play a Zelig-like role in ev­ery Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for­eign pol­icy con­tro­versy — from Beng­hazi and the Iran nu­clear arms deal to the Bowe Bergdahl-Tal­iban pris­oner trade and the deal to dis­arm Syria’s chem­i­cal weapons ar­se­nal. Now, once again, Ms. Rice finds her­self front and cen­ter in Amer­ica’s latest in­ter­na­tional cri­sis: al­le­ga­tions that Rus­sia med­dled in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions and the Obama White House leaked what it knew about the Trump cam­paign’s ties to the Krem­lin.

To sup­port­ers, she is a smart, ac­com­plished woman, a one­time Rhodes scholar who evolved into a fierce ad­vo­cate for Mr. Obama, of­ten re­cruited to han­dle some of her boss’ trick­i­est as­sign­ments. To crit­ics, she’s a light­ning rod for

con­tro­versy, an un­apolo­getic par­ti­san who some­how shows up to the scene of ev­ery pol­icy crime, the “Typhoid Mary of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for­eign pol­icy,” in the mem­o­rable re­cent char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Sen. Tom Cot­ton, Ar­kan­sas Repub­li­can.

Last week news broke that while serv­ing as Mr. Obama’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, she in­ten­tion­ally “un­masked” Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials swept up in U.S. surveil­lance, de­mand­ing the iden­ti­ties of Trump aides swept up in raw in­tel­li­gence re­ports. Ms. Rice bat­tled back against charges her ac­tions were po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated or tied to any or­ga­nized scheme to com­pile dirt on the Trump cam­paign.

But the dam­age was al­ready done and, once again, the pug­na­cious Ms. Rice found her­self front and cen­ter in a par­ti­san cage match, a re­cur­ring role in the saga of her ca­reer that has left many across Wash­ing­ton power cir­cles shak­ing their heads.

A fast rise

Born in 1964 to a Cor­nell Univer­sity eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor and a Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion pol­icy an­a­lyst in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Ms. Rice had ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents from Ja­maica and dis­played se­ri­ous am­bi­tion from the ear­li­est age, dream­ing of be­com­ing a sen­a­tor and ex­celling as a three-sport ath­lete and high school vale­dic­to­rian.

After study­ing at Stan­ford, she earned a doc­tor­ate from Ox­ford as a Rhodes scholar and won ac­claim for a dis­ser­ta­tion ex­plor­ing peace­keep­ing in Zim­babwe. She quickly lever­aged her cre­den­tials into a po­lit­i­cal job, serv­ing as a for­eign pol­icy aide to Michael Dukakis’ failed 1988 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign be­fore latch­ing onto Bill Clin­ton’s vic­to­ri­ous 1992 bid.

At the Clin­ton White House, for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Madeleine Al­bright men­tored Ms. Rice un­til 1997, when Pres­i­dent Clin­ton ap­pointed her as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for African af­fairs. She was just 33.

Of­ten the youngest high-level of­fi­cial in the room, Ms. Rice was noted for slash­ing through bu­reau­cracy with bold ideas as the White House re-en­gaged with Africa. The Wash­ing­ton Post quoted col­leagues call­ing her “Won­der Woman” and “bril­liant.” But oth­ers noted a chip on her shoul­der.

The Obama years

De­spite hav­ing been given a huge boost by the Clin­tons, Ms. Rice backed Barack Obama over Hil­lary Clin­ton in the 2008 Demo­cratic pri­mary, cit­ing the one-term Illi­nois sen­a­tor’s early op­po­si­tion to the Iraq War as the rea­son. The Clin­ton camp saw her as a de­fec­tor, but Mr. Obama ap­pointed her United Na­tions am­bas­sador and later his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser. She be­came one of his clos­est aides, but her style at­tracted se­ri­ous en­e­mies, re­port­edly tor­pe­do­ing Mr. Obama’s plans to name her as sec­re­tary of state when Mrs. Clin­ton stepped down in 2013.

In the wake of the Arab Spring, Libya ex­ploded into civil war, and Ms. Rice pushed for mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion to end the Gad­hafi regime. De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert Gates, Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Thomas Donilon and Home­land Se­cu­rity Ad­viser — and later CIA di­rec­tor — John Bren­nan all op­posed her. Ms. Rice won the bat­tle, but her ne­go­ti­at­ing style was crit­i­cized as rude and overly blunt.

But her real pub­lic no­to­ri­ety be­gan on Sept. 11, 2012, the an­niver­sary of the 9/11 at­tacks, when al Qaeda op­er­a­tives at­tacked a U.S. con­sulate in Beng­hazi, Libya, and killed four Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing Am­bas­sador J. Christo­pher Stevens.

Ms. Rice was the face of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse to the at­tack, ap­pear­ing on five Sun­day talk shows in one day to spread the later-de­bunked claim that it had been car­ried out not by hard­ened ter­ror­ists, but by a spon­ta­neous mob an­gry about an anti-Is­lam video on the in­ter­net.

Crit­ics say her claims fit with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s larger nar­ra­tive that al Qaeda was “on the run,” a cen­tral theme to Mr. Obama’s 2012 re-elec­tion cam­paign. In con­gres­sional hear­ings ex­plor­ing the deadly in­ci­dent, Repub­li­cans ac­cused Ms. Rice of “mis­lead­ing” the Amer­i­can peo­ple.

As ac­counts of her abra­sive per­son­al­ity and weak­ened cred­i­bil­ity mounted, Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion Mid­dle East ad­viser Den­nis Ross par­tially blamed her for ratch­et­ing up the White HouseIs­rael feud dur­ing the Iran nu­clear arms deal. In a mem­oir, Mr. Ross wrote Ms. Rice had a “com­bat­ive mind-set” and “non-col­lab­o­ra­tive in­stincts.”

After the U.S. traded five Tal­iban pris­on­ers held at Guan­tanamo Bay for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an Army sol­dier who was cap­tured after leav­ing his post in Afghanistan, Ms. Rice hailed the deal and claimed Sgt. Bergdahl had “served with honor and dis­tinc­tion.”

A year later the Army an­nounced Sgt. Bergdahl would be tried for de­ser­tion. On the cam­paign trail in 2016, Mr. Trump re­peat­edly de­nounced Mr. Bergdahl as a “dirty rot­ten traitor” and crit­i­cized the deal that brought him home.

By the end of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, some say, Ms. Rice, who had once been a con­tender to re­place Mrs. Clin­ton as sec­re­tary of state, had be­come a too-hot com­mod­ity within Wash­ing­ton diplo­matic cir­cles for fu­ture top jobs.

A pres­i­dent’s shield

His­to­ri­ans are fas­ci­nated with Rice­type char­ac­ters, a shield or “tough guy” to pro­tect the pres­i­dent from scan­dal or to ab­sorb the at­tacks in po­lit­i­cal firestorms. Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy had his brother, Robert, an en­forcer un­afraid of tack­ling the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s hardi­est en­e­mies. “Jack is too soft and for­giv­ing,” their fa­ther, Joe Kennedy, once said. “You can tram­ple all over him, and the next day he’ll be wait­ing for you with open arms. But when Bobby hates you, you stay hated.”

The 1993 New York Times obituary for H.R. Halde­man, an aide to Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon who served 18 months in prison for his in­volve­ment in cov­er­ing up Water­gate, noted that Mr. Halde­man “rel­ished his role in the White House as what he once called “the pres­i­dent’s [SOB].”

Craig Shirley, au­thor of four best­sellers on Ron­ald Rea­gan, told The Wash­ing­ton Times that Ms. Rice is seen less as an Obama-era en­forcer and more as a li­a­bil­ity as the ad­min­is­tra­tion faced mount­ing chal­lenges around the globe in Mr. Obama’s sec­ond term. Ms. Rice’s ruth­less streak fi­nally un­der­mined her ca­reer, Mr. Shirley ar­gued.

“She’s find­ing out what many oth­ers have found out about Wash­ing­ton,” he said. “They love you, and then they stop lov­ing you.”

Mr. Shirley added that in the age of “po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness,” a fe­male na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser gave her a cer­tain pro­tec­tion from crit­i­cism, but even that has fi­nally crum­bled. “She was never an as­set to Obama,” he said. “She was al­ways a li­a­bil­ity.”

Un­mask­ing

Given the re­peated pat­tern through­out her ca­reer, both sup­port­ers and crit­ics say they are not sur­prised to find Ms. Rice front and cen­ter in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s last con­tro­versy, even as Mr. Obama, her boss, pre­pares his mem­oirs and ap­pears wholly un­con­cerned with Mr. Trump’s charges that he per­son­ally or­dered the tap­ping of Trump Tower.

Last week Ms. Rice marched into Wash­ing­ton’s MSNBC stu­dio and cat­e­gor­i­cally de­nied she com­mit­ted any wrong­do­ing by seek­ing the redacted names of Trump cam­paign aides, as was re­ported by The Times and oth­ers.

House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Devin Nunes first an­nounced the rev­e­la­tion, then later stepped down from the probe.

At the time of Ms. Rice’s in­ter­view with host An­drea Mitchell, she seemed at points to im­ply that she had, in­deed, re­quested the iden­ti­ties of blacked-out Trump team names in the in­tel­li­gence re­ports, but that the re­quests were part of her job, and she needed to un­der­stand the gravity of the re­ports in­tel­li­gence agen­cies were com­pil­ing about Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the U.S. elec­toral process.

“There were oc­ca­sions when I would re­ceive a re­port in which a U.S. per­son was re­ferred to, name not pro­vided,” Ms. Rice said. “Some­times in that con­text, in or­der to un­der­stand the sig­nif­i­cance of the re­port and as­sess its sig­nif­i­cance, it was nec­es­sary to re­quest the in­for­ma­tion as to who that per­son was.”

To pro­tect na­tional se­cu­rity, Ms. Rice said, her job of­ten re­quired her to learn the iden­tity of masked U.S. of­fi­cials.

The Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, now con­duct­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Rus­sia elec­tion is­sue, has ex­pressed an in­ter­est in hear­ing more from Ms. Rice; Pres­i­dent Trump clearly does not think that the mat­ter is set­tled.

In com­ments to The New York Times, Mr. Trump ar­gued that Ms. Rice’s role will turn out to be “the big­gest story” in the Rus­sian hack­ing scan­dal.

“I think the Su­san Rice thing is a mas­sive story. I think it’s a mas­sive, mas­sive story. All over the world,” the pres­i­dent said.

Asked if he thought Pres­i­dent Obama’s top se­cu­rity aide had com­mit­ted a crime, Mr. Trump replied, “Do I think? Yes, I think.”

A spokesman for Ms. Rice re­sponded with her trade­mark feisti­ness: “I’m not go­ing to dig­nify the pres­i­dent’s lu­di­crous charge with a com­ment.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

PARIAH: For­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Su­san E. Rice’s check­ered his­tory con­tin­ues to haunt her in the post-Obama era.

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