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Bitter words escalate over Benghazi deaths

  • Article by: KAREN DeYOUNG
  • Washington Post
  • November 14, 2012 - 9:19 PM

WASHINGTON - An escalating showdown between President Obama and leading Republican senators over a deadly attack in Libya turned angry and personal on Wednesday.

Obama accused Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., of trying to "besmirch" the reputation of Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and to hold her potential nomination as secretary of state hostage to their demand for a broad Watergate-style investigation of alleged intelligence and security lapses that led to the deaths of four Americans at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.

"If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me," Obama said at his first news conference since last week's election. Glaring across the East Room of the White House, he called the accusations against Rice "outrageous" and said she had "nothing to do with Benghazi."

Just minutes after Obama spoke, Graham issued a statement saying, "Mr. President, don't think for one minute I don't hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi. I think you failed as commander in chief before, during and after the attack." As for Rice, Graham said, "I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle."

The exchange came on the eve of closed-door hearings by the Senate and House intelligence committees on the Sept. 11 incident, which the administration now says was an organized terrorist attack.

The Senate Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees also have indicated that they will hold hearings on the attack.

The resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus also has become ensnared in the Benghazi controversy. Petraeus, who had traveled to Libya to investigate the attack, has agreed to testify before the Senate intelligence committee, said Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

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