- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sen. John McCain said Sunday that the Obama administration’s handling of the Sept. 11 consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya, has been a “debacle,” and that the White House has engaged in a cover-up worse than the Watergate scandal that forced President Nixon to resign.

After walking back their initial story that the fatal attack was a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam video, the administration has seen other claims unravel in recent days, including whether the U.S. tried to send outside forces to protect its personnel.

“For literally days and days they told the American people something that had no basis in fact whatsoever. And that is the president of the United States,” the Arizona Republican said in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Mr. Obama “said that he immediately ordered action to be taken no action was taken over seven hours. Now we find out the secretary of defense decided not to take any action.”

Mr. McCain, who ran against the president in 2008, has been one of the administration’s sharpest critics in the aftermath of the attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

“Somebody the other day said to me, ‘This is as bad as Watergate.’ Well, nobody died in Watergate,” Mr. McCain said. “This is either a massive coverup or incompetence that is not acceptable to the American people.”

Mr. McCain and other Republicans have renewed their criticism of the administration after President Obama said repeatedly Friday that his administration would “find out what happened” and punish those responsible, but twice ducked questions about whether U.S. officials denied requests for help.

“We’re going to gather all the facts, find out exactly what happened, and make sure that it doesn’t happen again. We’re also going to make sure we bring to justice those who carried out these attacks,” the president said in an interview with KUSA-TV in Denver.

Republicans have seized on another inconsistency in the administration’s account of what happened during and after the attack.

Mr. Obama, at the last presidential debate, said: “When we received that phone call, I immediately made sure that, No. 1, we did everything we could to secure those Americans who were still in harm’s way.”

But on Thursday, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta said he and other top Pentagon officials decided against putting forces on the ground in Benghazi during the attack because of a lack of reliable intelligence.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said the unanswered questions about the Libyan consulate attack have become one of the top two issues on the campaign trail.

“Why, after a cry for help to Leon Panetta and after the president gave a directive to protect — he claims he gave a directive to protect those people — Panetta now claims that he didn’t, he told the personnel to stand down,” he said. “So either the president didn’t give the directive, or the president isn’t being truthful or perhaps Leon Panetta acted as commander in chief. This is the subject right now that people are talking about.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, appearing on “Face the Nation,” defended the president’s handling of the Benghazi crisis.

“First of all, the president immediately ordered an investigation into what happened in Benghazi. Second, he wants to find out who’s responsible. And third, he will bring them to justice, just like he brought [Osama] Bin Laden and [Anwar] al Awlaki in Yemen. And he has been consistent about that,” the former White House chief of staff said.