The Current

Trump impeachment witnesses testified 'at great personal risk', says Susan Rice

Former U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice said witnesses testifying at U.S. President Donald Trump's impeachment inquiry did so at the risk of intimidation and public humiliation, and recalled how the politics of personal destruction took a toll on her own family in the wake of the 2012 Benghazi attacks.

U.S. president tried to 'blatantly lie about them, smear them,' says ex-ambassador

Watching the impeachment hearings last week, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said she was struck by the 'extraordinary patriotism ... and sense of duty' of the witnesses. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)
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None of the witnesses testifying to the impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump "will ever enjoy anonymity again," according to former U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice.

"They have served selflessly; they've come forward to speak the truth at great personal risk," said Rice, who served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013, and then as national security advisor to Barack Obama until 2017.

Watching the impeachment hearings last week, she said she was struck by the witnesses' "extraordinary patriotism, and dedication, and intelligence, and sense of duty to their oath to the Constitution."

Speaking to Laura Lynch on The Current, Rice, left, discussed what she called 'the politics of personal destruction' in Washington and beyond. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)

But she told The Current's Laura Lynch that sacrifice has been met by what she called attempts from Trump to "blatantly lie about them, smear them [and] denigrate them."

A dozen witnesses testified over five days of televised public hearings, held over allegations that Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky. It's alleged Trump wanted Zelensky to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son, in a bid to help his own reelection.

Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified on the second day of hearings. Trump responded to her appearance with a series of tweets, which where displayed to her during her testimony.

Yovanovitch called the tweets "very intimidating."

During testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives, ex-U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch addresses Donald Trump's live tweets attacking her. 1:44

Rice 'branded a liar' after Benghazi

Rice herself has faced the glare of public scrutiny, particularly after the 2012 Benghazi attack, which she discusses in her new memoir Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For.

In September of that year, four Americans were killed in an attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, including Christopher Stevens, who was then the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

Rice appeared on five political TV talk shows in the days that followed. But the initial account she offered — that a spontaneous demonstration over an anti-Muslim video produced in the U.S. triggered the attack — later turned out to be wrong.

Rice said that to her knowledge, the information was correct when she offered it, and that neither she nor the Obama administration "set out to deliberately mislead the American people, as eight congressional investigations validated."

Nevertheless, she said she became a target.

Glass, debris and overturned furniture are strewn inside a room in the gutted U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in this Sept. 12, 2012, file photo. Four Americans, including U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, were killed in the attack. (Ibrahim Alaguri/Associated Press)

"I was branded a liar. I was branded incompetent, untrustworthy, and many other names by right-wing media, and by Republicans in Congress in particular," she said.

The publicity took a heavy toll on her family.

Her mother was already in ill health, and it "just ate her alive to see me demeaned and vilified on TV," she said.

Her daughter, nine years old at the time, began to have hallucinations of "men coming at her out of walls."

Rice said doctors ruled out brain tumours or illnesses like schizophrenia, and "concluded that she was having a stress reaction to what had happened to me, and what she was hearing on TV." 

She said that after a few months, the hallucinations faded, and her daughter is now "a happy, healthy, extremely successful 17-year-old girl."

Rice discusses the Benghazi attack and how the media coverage affected her family in her new book Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)

But the ordeal put into sharp focus for how the public vilification carried "unintended consequences for people who didn't sign up for this … the ones who love the person who's being attacked." 

Media needed 'a villain'

At the time, Rice was in the running to become Obama's secretary of state.

She withdrew her name because she thought "it would be a long, costly, bloody battle that would distract from the president's very important second-term priorities, and be more pain for my family." 

She stayed in her post as UN ambassador and was named national security adviser a year later.

Rice devotes a chapter of her book to explain and explore the Benghazi attack, and the effect that media coverage had on her career and her family. 

She writes that she met with a producer from Fox News to ask why she had become such a target. 

She said he told her "that their job at Fox every night is to make their audience angry, because anger equals ratings."

"And [there's] nothing better to make the audience angry than a villain."

Watch Rice discuss her connection to Canada and late CBC journalist Barbara Frum:

The former Obama administration official discusses her Canadian husband Ian Cameron, who once worked as a producer on The National, and a pivotal moment in their relationship involving Barbara Frum. 2:49

Her appearances on five TV talk shows following the attack "gave them tremendous ammunition," she said, "to create a new villain — and that's what they did."

Rice said she included these stories in her book to warn people from underestimating "the politics of personal destruction," which has "become so commonplace in Washington."


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Ines Colabrese.

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