Condoleezza Rice Has Left the Building

ABC News' Kirit Radia reports: The outgoing Secretary of State made a ceremonial final exit from the State Department's C. St. lobby this afternoon and hundreds of department employees gathered to see her off.

"I’ve been so lucky to be the chief diplomat for a country that has never sought empire, and understands that power is only good when it is married with principle," Condoleezza Rice told the crowd. "And I have been so privileged and so honored to serve with each and every one of you. Because the men and women of the State Department, those working here in Washington, those working in the far corners of the earth, are the best example of what America stands for."

After her remarks she was thanked by rounds of applause from the gathered crowd.  Rice lingered for about ten minutes shaking hands and posing for photos before walking outside amid more applause and getting in her motorcade.

Earlier in the day, Rice appeared at the start of the daily press briefing to thank the press. She spoke at length about the need for a free press in a functioning democracy.

"Many times, throughout discussions with countries that are trying to break free of authoritarianism or in cases where countries are still under authoritarian rule, I’ve found myself defending the free press," Rice said.

Her press corps made her prove it by shouting questions as she turned to leave. Rice, this time, obliged and took several questions before handing the podium over to spokesman Sean McCormack for his final briefing.

At the end of the briefing, McCormack offered his own reflections, his eyes welling up as he concluded.

"I view our roles as two sides of the same coin: You try to hold the government to account, and that is terribly important; we try to inform publics along the way as best we can, and that has always been our intention. And if there’s anything I’ve learned standing up here at the podium, it is that a free press is absolutely critical to the functioning of any healthy democracy. I think the Secretary spoke quite eloquently about it. But it was an unexpected lesson. Standing up here, that is something I feel very deeply, and I just want to say thank you," McCormack said, before rushing off the podium as his emotions began to show.

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