Joe Biden still may be undecided about who to pick for a running mate, but Donald Trump’s team knows exactly who they want: Susan Rice.
Trump’s aides and allies accuse Rice — without delving too deeply into the evidence — of helping cover up crimes for two of the president’s favorite foils, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, making her just the kind of deep-state villain who could fire up his MAGA base.
“She is absolutely our No. 1 draft pick,” a Trump campaign official said.
Rice, the former ambassador to the United Nations and national security adviser for Obama, is accused of revealing the identities of top Trump associates in 2016 after they were picked up as part of U.S. surveillance of foreign officials.
Four years earlier, she faced allegations that she misled Americans when she announced on national TV that the fatal attacks in Benghazi, Libya, occurred after spontaneous protests in response to an anti-Muslim video. That was determined to be inaccurate.
On Monday night, Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host influential in Trump’s orbit, opened his show with a lengthy diatribe about Rice and her role in the 2012 Benghazi raid — strikingly similar to the attack Republicans lodged against Clinton in the 2016 race against Trump.
“I can’t think of anyone that is more polarizing who would fire up the base than Susan Rice,” said former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican who investigated the Obama administration as chairman of the House oversight committee. “They know her, and they don’t like her.”
Biden is nearing the end of his search for a vice president, with in-person interviews expected this week. Attention has focused on Rice, Rep. Karen Bass and Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Duckworth. Aides said Biden has pushed back his planned announcement to next week. An outside Trump adviser described Rice as the “most target-rich environment.”
Biden’s campaign and Rice declined to comment. But Democrats and others have dismissed the attacks against Rice as outdated and unsubstantiated, and said they won’t matter to Americans struggling with the coronavirus outbreak.
Kevin Madden, a former aide to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, said revisiting national security debates of the past is a “misplaced priority” during a pandemic and economic recession, which he called the “immediate concerns of persuadable voters.”
With less than three months until the election, Trump is lagging behind Biden in most national polls and battleground states. His standing has even fallen in traditionally red states, alarming advisers who warn that he must focus on a strategy to conquer the pandemic.
The selection of Rice, who has not served in elected office but is close to Biden, would undoubtedly lead to 30-second attacks ads and stinging presidential tweets. That could energize Trump supporters who have long believed Obama and federal bureaucrats attempted to undermine Trump. Last week, the Republican National Committee included Rice on a fake list of speakers for the Democrat national convention: “Susan Rice to discuss lying and unmasking: how to cover up a terrorist attack and spy on your domestic political opponents.”
But Rice’s name on the ballot would not likely help Trump attract independent voters that his team has been trying to win over for years.
“The base is already pretty energized,” Republican strategist John Feehery said. “If you put in Susan Rice, I don’t think it’s as helpful as people think. I think the No. 1 thing he needs to talk about is getting the economy going. Rice doesn’t scratch that itch.”
Though the Trump campaign has criticized Rice previously, it declined to comment on her Tuesday. Instead, they attacked all of Biden’s possible running mates as too liberal. “It doesn’t matter who Joe Biden picks because they all reside on the far left and will continue to use him as an empty vessel to fill with their radical agenda,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said.
Trump has spoken frequently about what he has dubbed “Obamagate” — vague accusations that the Obama administration targeted incoming Trump aides in late 2016 and early 2017. It includes an allegation that Rice requested the names of the Trump associates captured as part of the surveillance of foreign officials. Rice’s successor, Michael Flynn, was among those revealed and later leaked to the media, uncovering contacts he had with the Russian ambassador and leading to his ouster and criminal charges.
“This is not anything political as has been alleged,” Rice told MSNBC in 2017. “The allegation is that somehow Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes. That is absolutely false.”
But Republicans accused Rice of lying when she said she knew nothing about the release of the names in 2017 after the Trump administration declassified an email in May that indicated she was aware of the situation.
“Rice was clearly hiding something, just as Joe Biden is now,” the Trump campaign said in late May.
Rice has said she did nothing wrong in seeking names — a process known as “unmasking” — and that it was a routine part of her job.
“It is completely false to suggest that asking for the identity of an American person is the same as leaking it,” she wrote in her 2019 book, “Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For.” “Leaking classified information is a serious crime. I have not and would not leak classified information.”
Last year, she called South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee which is investigating the allegations, a “piece of s—” on a popular podcast.
Still, the allegations persist. “Susan Rice has been caught in a massive lie,” the RNC declared on May 20. “Reminder: This is the SAME Susan Rice who lied about the Benghazi terrorist attack which claimed the lives of four Americans.”
After the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, Rice became the face of the Obama administration’s response, though her role was limited to TV. She appeared on five Sunday shows, saying the attack came after protests in response to an anti-Muslim video. Subsequent investigations showed that it was premeditated.
Republicans lawmakers accused Rice of intentionally misleading Americans, but the congressional committees that investigated the attack did not determine she had.
“Not one of them found that I had deliberately misled the American people, but I don’t doubt that the Republicans will use this, and they’ll attack whoever is Joe Biden’s choice to be his vice president,” Rice said on ABC’s “The View” last week. “But let’s be honest about what this is. This is dishonest, and it’s a distraction.”
In late 2019, Trump and Rice got into a Twitter spat about Syria policy. In a late-night tweet, Trump called Rice “a disaster” after she criticized his strategy on television. Rice responded on Twitter minutes later, claiming Trump told her in 2015 that she was doing a “great job for the country.” Less than two months later, Trump announced he was running for president.