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White House Stands Firm As Conservatives Swarm Susan Rice Over Bergdahl

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Rice has taken plenty of heat after she said during a Sunday interview with ABC's "This Week" that Bergdahl "served the United States with honor and distinction." With several of Bergdahl's former platoon members coming forward to accuse the POW of desertion, Rice's characterization seemed dubious to many.

But on Friday, Rice and her colleagues circled the wagons.

"I realize there has been lots of discussion and controversy around this," Rice told CNN. "But what I was referring to was the fact that this was a young man who volunteered to serve his country in uniform at a time of war. That, in and of itself, is a very honorable thing."

White House aides initially appeared to distance themselves from Rice's praise of Bergdahl, with one unnamed official even telling Time earlier this week that she "will regret" her remarks. Rice eventually received some public backing from White House press secretary Jay Carney.

But the Obama administration is mounting an even stronger defense now, with an unnamed official telling Time that Rice's adversaries have it out for her specifically.

“She sort of brings out this craziness in a certain crowd,” the official said. “If something is taken a half-notch out of context, it’s calls for her resignation and vicious ad hominem attacks against her.”

The official also hinted that Rice's critics target her because of her race and gender.

“I’m not here to suggest it’s because she’s a woman or a minority or what it is,” the official said. “But other principals in the national-security team don’t come under this kind of attack.”

It's true that Rice has been attacked this week by many of the same critics who still resent her for her comments on Sunday morning talk shows following the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Her suggestion that the attack was sparked by outrage over an anti-Muslim video has been central to the right-wing conspiracies surrounding the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi.

That she made her remarks about Bergdahl in the same Sunday morning venue has only encouraged Benghazi comparisons.

Conservative pundit Rich Lowry drew those parallels in a column for Politico Magazine.

"In the matter of Bergdahl, she appears to have again repeated whatever crude, poorly informed talking points were put in front of her," Lowry wrote.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), whose relentless criticism of Rice over Benghazi helped derail her prospects to become secretary of state, said Wednesday that she should resign.

"I can't believe anything she tells me," Graham told Newsmax TV's Steve Malzberg.

Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary under George W. Bush, said Tuesday on Twitter that the White House shouldn't allow Rice to appear on television. In an interview Wednesday on Fox News, Fleischer said he's "reached the conclusion she's just not very good at this."

"Either she doesn't know her facts or she doesn't know how to string together accurate sentences," Fleischer told Fox's Gretchen Carlson.

Rice's description of Bergdahl has also given fodder to conservatives who are fixated with the White House's apparent political miscalculation in the prisoner swap that secured the soldier's freedom.

NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd reported this week that the administration has been caught off-guard by the intense criticism of Bergdahl from those who served in his unit.

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer can't believe that President Obama deployed Rice to celebrate Bergdahl's release. Krauthammer also criticized Obama's appearance alongside Bergdahl's parents at the White House. Bergdahl's father, Bob, has been ridiculed by several conservatives this week.

"The fact that the President pretended this was some kind of a triumph at the beginning when he had the family in the White House," Krauthammer said Thursday on Fox News. "It was a victory lap. He had Susan Rice saying this is an extraordinary day for America. It was an extraordinarily dark and somber day."