Obama vigorously defends UN envoy Rice, calling criticisms 'outrageous'
Obama called Susan Rice's work at the UN 'exemplary' and said Sens. McCain and Graham, who threatened a filibuster to block her nomination to higher office, should instead 'go after me.'
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McCain on Wednesday said Rice’s comments about the Benghazi attack were evidence she is “not qualified” to be the top US diplomat. Speaking at a Washington press conference, Graham said Rice’s handling of the Benghazi issue on the Sept. 16 Sunday news shows showed her to be “a political choice with a political narrative,” and he added, “I don’t trust her.”Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures What happened at the US Consulate in Libya?
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McCain later offered a riposte to Obama’s challenge to Rice’s critics to come after him instead. In a statement issued after Obama’s remarks, McCain said, “I have always said that the buck stops with the president of the United States,” and accused the president of making “contradictory statements” and failing to deliver a “full explanation” of what happened two months after the event.
McCain said the administration’s inability to deliver that explanation is why he is seeking creation of a “select committee” that would be charged with delivering the missing “full and complete accounting.”
Much of Washington had expected that the Petraeus scandal, lingering questions over its possible implications for the CIA’s Benghazi response, and the extension of the scandal to the commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, might dominate the press conference.
But Obama said in response to the one question he received on Mr. Petraeus that he had no evidence that his “personal matter” had had an impact on national security or that at any time classified information was disclosed as a result of it.
Obama said Petraeus had had an “extraordinary career,” that he had served the country “with great distinction,” and that the US is “safer” because of that service.
When asked if he thought that he as president should have known earlier about a criminal investigation that ended up involving his spy chief, Obama cited established protocols that ban contacts between the Justice Department (of which the FBI is part) and the White House on criminal investigations.
“We’re not supposed to meddle in criminal investigations, and that’s been our practice,” Obama said. He said he has full confidence in the FBI’s investigation and that he is “withholding judgment” on the “process by which his CIA director and celebrated war general became ensnared in scandal until all the facts are known.
On Benghazi, Obama said his orders to his national security team upon learning of the attack were to “do whatever we need to do to make sure [our people] are safe,” although it is likely that two of the four Americans killed at Benghazi – the US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and diplomat Sean Smith – were already dead by the time that order was given.
Obama said that as the person sending Americans into dangerous places, he wants to get to the bottom of what happened in Benghazi as much as anyone. He pledged to “put forth every bit of information we have” once the investigations are complete, adding, “Whenever you have four Americans killed, that’s a problem.”
IN PICTURES: Libya's critical transition