McCain: Libya either a "cover up" or "incompetence"

(CBS News) Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., argued this morning that Libya has made foreign policy a major part of the presidential campaign and that President Obama has shown "the worst kind of incompetence" on the issue.

"I don't know if it's either a cover-up or the worst kind of incompetence, which doesn't qualify the president as commander in chief," McCain said on "Face the Nation" today. He called the administration's handling of the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, a "debacle" that has "exposed the failures of the Obama foreign policy."

McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been one of the most vocal critics of the Obama administration on the Libya issue.

McCain said the "worst" aspects of the Libya aftermath are the "gross, gross, outrageous statements" made by administration officials, including the president, in the days after the attack. He specifically referred to statements by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice made shortly after the attacks in which she blamed the violence on a "spontaneous" demonstration over an anti-Muslim American made film.

"We now know there was no demonstration. There was no mob," McCain said, referring to surveillance records he received from inside the consulate. "So for literally days and days, they told the American people something that had no basis in fact whatsoever," McCain added.

McCain also compared Libya to Watergate saying, "Nobody died in Watergate. But this is either a massive cover-up or incompetence that is not acceptable service to the American people," he said. "The American people may take that into consideration a week from Tuesday."

"What did the president know? When did he know it? And what did he do about it?" McCain asked rhetorically.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama's former White House chief of staff, defended the president. Emanuel pointed to the president's immediate order of an investigation and his vow to bring those who committed the assassinations "to justice."

"[A]s commander in chief, he took control and he said exactly what needs to be done. None of us are privy to the information," Emanuel said on "Face the Nation".

As for Hurricane Sandy, which is approaching the east coast and has caused Mitt Romney to rearrange his campaign schedule and Mr. Obama to cancel campaign events, McCain said he expects the storm to "help" Mr. Obama politically.

"The American people look to him, and I'm sure he will conduct himself and play his leadership role in a fine fashion. So I would imagine that might help him a little bit," McCain said.

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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