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NBC's Guthrie to Chris Matthews: Did Susan Rice 'Mislead' the Public?

In an exchange with MSNBC Harball host Chris Matthews on Wednesday's NBC Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie pondered the possibility that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice lied about Benghazi: "...should she have been more direct that the information she was providing to the American people was at that point, not just preliminary, but incomplete? I guess the bottom line is, did she mislead?"

Matthews replied by wondering: "...was she a flack...just out there mouthing the words that somebody told you, or is she a thoughtful cabinet minister – to be a potential cabinet minister?" He then laid the blame entirely on the intelligence: "But from what I'm told, she got the facts directly unchanged, unspun by the White House, nobody changed anything. If anybody's at fault here, it's the intelligence community, for giving her incomplete information for their own purposes."

At the top of the segment, Guthrie observed on President Obama possibly nominating Rice to be secretary of state: "...all indications are that it would be a very ugly confirmation battle. Is it worth it for the President to take on this fight?"

Matthews suggested Obama put off the nomination for a little while: "He clearly has to get some separation, it seems, between the fight over what happened in Benghazi....and the issue of who to pick for secretary of state....If he has to make this nomination right in the middle of this, we're gonna have an opening act for the second term which is going to be very messy and hot, and not helpful."

Veering off to the subject of the fiscal cliff negotiations, Matthews praised the President: "The President's been playing this right so far, make it about the middle class, make it about their tax cut, make it about Christmas shopping and the need to get it done. And also, get those rich people to pay their taxes."

Here is a full transcript of the November 28 segment:

7:09AM ET
 
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Let's turn to Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's Hardball. Chris, good morning to you.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Good morning, Savannah.

GUTHRIE: As Andrea just reported, all indications are that Susan Rice will be the President's pick for secretary of state and all indications are that it would be a very ugly confirmation battle. Is it worth it for the President to take on this fight? And at this point, does he have any choice given how vigorously he's defended her?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: State of the State Department; GOP Vows to Fight Rice Nomination]

MATTHEWS: Well, he clearly, officially the White House has not made a decision yet. I was told last night, right at the top over there, they haven't made a decision yet. But he clearly has to get some separation, it seems, between the fight over what happened in Benghazi, what the testimony she gave on Meet the Press and those other shows in mid-September was, and the issue of who to pick for secretary of state. If he can separate those two issues by a couple of weeks, he benefits. If he has to make this nomination right in the middle of this, we're gonna have an opening act for the second term which is going to be very messy and hot, and not helpful.

GUTHRIE: And would that be a fight worth having?

MATTHEWS: Well, it's gonna distract from what his big effort is the next couple weeks. It's clear the President has to win the battle over the fiscal cliff. He's got people on his left, progressives out there don't think it is a cliff, he's got to get them off his back. He's got to get the business community on his side to put pressure on Republicans in the House so they can get a deal before Christmas. The President's been playing this right so far, make it about the middle class, make it about their tax cut, make it about Christmas shopping and the need to get it done. And also, get those rich people to pay their taxes.

GUTHRIE: Let's turn-

MATTHEWS: It's really a tough fight. If this were his only fight, it'd be his toughest fight.

GUTHRIE: Well, let's turn back to Rice for a moment and look at the substance of this. She has acknowledged that what she did was essentially repeat unclassified talking points that came from the intelligence community. If she had classified information that was somehow different or would have added more to it, obviously she couldn't have said it on the Sunday shows, but should she have been more direct that the information she was providing to the American people was at that point, not just preliminary, but incomplete? I guess the bottom line is, did she mislead?

MATTHEWS: Right. And I think the big question – and it is a question, we don't have the answer – was she a flack, as we say in politics, you're just out there mouthing the words that somebody told you, or is she a thoughtful cabinet minister – to be a potential cabinet minister? And that is the big question. Because if she knew the classified didn't square with the unclassified, then she should have left some openings there. But from what I'm told, she got the facts directly unchanged, unspun by the White House, nobody changed anything. If anybody's at fault here, it's the intelligence community, for giving her incomplete information for their own purposes. By the way, this story remains murky for a reason. I always say in politics, if it's better than it looks, they'll tell you. It's worse than it looks. We have a CIA operation going on in Benghazi we're still covering up, and that's what they don't want to talk about.

GUTHRIE: Alright, Chris Matthews, we'll see how it develops, thank you. And a reminder, you can catch Chris on Hardball, weeknights at 5 and 7 on MSNBC.

-- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow him on Twitter.