McCain: Rice needs to ‘bear responsibility’ for handling of Benghazi

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Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Thursday defended his criticisms of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, saying she needed to “bear responsibility” for initially claiming that the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was sparked by a spontaneous protest.  

“Four Americans died; they didn’t have to die, and for someone to go out and convey something that is absolutely false to all America — in my view, they bear responsibility,” said McCain on NBC’s “Today.”

The Arizona senator’s comments came after President Obama offered a forceful defense of his ambassador during a Wednesday press conference, calling criticism of Rice from McCain and his GOP colleagues “outrageous” and telling them to “go after me.”

“For them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received? And to besmirch her reputation is outrageous,” the president said. 

After the September Benghazi attack, which claimed the lives of four Americans, Rice initially said it was caused by anti-American anger sparked by an online video critical of Islam. The White House later acknowledged the assault was a planned terrorist attack, but has defended Rice, saying her comments were based on the intelligence available at that time.

McCain has said he would block Rice, who is rumored to be on the shortlist to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Obama’s second term, if she is nominated to be the nation’s top diplomat.

McCain pushed back at Obama’s comments on Thursday.

“I’m not taking anybody on,” he said. “The American people have lost four brave Americans.

“We owe it to the families and to other Americans who served,” McCain added about his intention to continue to investigate the deadly attacks. 

McCain also pushed back against criticism from liberal groups that his attacks on Susan Rice are unfair after he defended former President George W. Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after the administration’s claims that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. 

McCain said the two situations were not comparable. 

“Every intelligence agency in the world, including the British, believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,” he said. “That’s an entirely different situation.

“Look, I’ve taken on my own administration, whether it be the failure in Iraq when I advocated for a surge, whether it be going after torture, saying we have to stop it, against my own administration, and against my own president from my own party, I take on things when I believe they are wrong.”

McCain said he welcomed the opportunity to speak with former CIA Director David Petraeus. The senator said he would ask Petraeus, “Why were we not prepared for this attack when there was ample evidence that because of previous attacks and overwhelming intelligence information, that attacks were very likely on our consulate?”

Petraeus will testify this week before the House and Senate Intelligence committees, but McCain, who has pushed for a select committee to probe Benghazi, has said he believes Petraeus would be a “very important witness.” 

“There was an overwhelming amount of evidence that there was great danger and there was no measures taken to comply with the possibility of an attack,” McCain said.

Asked if there would be any questions off limits to Petraeus, who resigned last week from the CIA citing an extramarital affair, McCain said, “I don’t think so.” But he added that his focus would be on what happened in Benghazi.