By Meghashyam Mali - 11/23/12 06:52 PM EST
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Friday defended his criticism of U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice’s statements in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack and charged President Obama with “stonewalling the American people.”
“I blame the president above all others,” said Graham, speaking on Fox News.
“We have photos of the president in the situation room, a minute-by-minute account of the president's leadership. He deserves great credit for the Bin Laden raid. It was a gutsy call. We have information about how he called the deal on the recent cease-fire between the Israelis and Palestinians,” said Graham. “When it comes to Benghazi, we've been given no information about what he did for seven hours during the attack.”
The South Carolina senator, though, continued to question why the administration tapped Rice to share what it knew about Benghazi with the public in the days after the attack, which claimed four American lives.
“I also would like to know why was she chosen. She has absolutely no responsibility for the Benghazi conflict. She was not an intelligence professional. And the president said, ‘Why pick on her? She doesn't know anything about Benghazi, she had nothing to do it,’” said Graham. “So my question is: Why was she speaking to the American people then?”
Rice initially said the September attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was sparked by anti-American anger over a film critical of Islam that was posted to YouTube. The administration later amended their narrative, acknowledging that the assault was a planned terrorist attack.
Republicans have questioned whether the White House downplayed terrorist involvement to score political points before the election.
Graham and fellow GOP lawmakers have said Rice’s role could force them to block her nomination if President Obama taps her to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of State. Nearly 100 House Republicans last week signed a letter asking Obama not to nominate Rice to the top post at State.
Rice on Wednesday said GOP criticisms of her were “unfounded” and her initial account of the attack was based on then-current intelligence community assessments.
“I have great respect for Sen. McCain and his service to our country. I always have and I always will,” Rice said. “I do think that some of the statements he’s made about me have been unfounded, but I look forward to having the opportunity at the appropriate time to discuss all of this with him.”
The content of the talking points given to Rice by the intelligence community have also come under congressional scrutiny. Former CIA Director David Petraeus testified last week that the intelligence agency knew almost immediately that the attack was terrorist in nature. Republicans say Rice must explain why the CIA’s explanation for the attack differed from her public statements.
Graham on Friday said he would continue pressing for answers. “We're going to keep pushing, because we need to know how the system failed, how these four brave Americans got killed, and we're going to get to the bottom of this.”
“Were they telling us the best intelligence we had about Benghazi, or were they shading the story to give the best political perspective for the administration?” he asked.