Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and two of his colleagues said that “the buck stops” with President Obama with respect to the terrorist attacks in Libya, but they praised Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her willingness to claim the blame in the absence of the White House taking responsibility.
“The security of Americans serving our nation everywhere in the world is ultimately the job of the Commander-in-Chief,” said McCain in a joint statement with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. “The buck stops there.”
The senators were alluding to Obama’s comment on the campaign trail this year that “the buck stops” with him, as they rejected Clinton’s “laudable gesture” of claiming responsibility for the security failures that led to the deadly September 11 attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
“I take responsibility,” Clinton told CNN during a trip to Peru today. “The president and the vice president wouldn’t be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals.”
The senators took issue with her statement on two points. “If the President was truly not aware of this rising threat level in Benghazi, then we have lost confidence in his national security team, whose responsibility it is to keep the President informed,” they said.
The statement noted the series of incidents that took place in Benghazi before the attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (There were at least 13 threats, according to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, including an attempt to assassinate the British Ambassador.)
“But if the President was aware of these earlier attacks in Benghazi prior to the events of September 11, 2012, then he bears full responsibility for any security failures that occurred,” the senators continued.
Ayotte, Graham, and McCain also argued that Clinton’s statement failed to absolve the White House of repeatedly pointing to an anti-Islam Youtube video as the proximate cause of the attack.
“[T]here is the separate issue of the insistence by members of the Administration, including the President himself, that the attack in Benghazi was the result of a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video, long after it had become clear that the real cause was a terrorist attack,” they said. “The President also bears responsibility for this portrayal of the attack, and we continue to believe that the American people deserve to know why the Administration acted as it did.”
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was pressed to reconcile the White House’s claims with a State Department official’s comment that he had told officials in D.C. that no protest against the video took place before the assault.
“Look, I’m generally dumber than most of the rest of the government,” Nuland said last week. “I mean, that’s what I’m paid to be.”