Republicans not playing politics with Benghazi, Sen. Lindsey Graham says

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday that Republicans are not politicizing the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi with their ongoing investigation, which includes a move by House Republicans last week to form a special investigative panel.

"I would say to anybody who believes that this is just about politics, 'Go tell that to the family members. Go explain to the family members how it's okay for the White House to withhold information from the Congress and the American people,'" he said.

"Anybody who plays politics with Benghazi is going to get burned. So if we're playing politics with Benghazi, then we'll get burned. If our Democratic friends are shielding the administration and trying to protect them and the administration tried to protect themselves, their re-election because they couldn't stand the truth about Benghazi, then they'll get burned," Graham added.

The South Carolina Republican was referring to an email obtained by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch that showed then-White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes (the brother of CBS News president David Rhodes) listing several goals for then-United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice as she prepared to go on political talk shows just a few days after the Sept. 11, 2012 attack. Rhodes wrote that one "goal" for Rice was "To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure or policy." Another stated "goal" was to "reinforce the President and Administration's strength."

Conservatives have argued that the email proves there was an attempt by the White House to cover up the truth about what happened in Benghazi because it was not included in documents about Benghazi subpoenaed by Congress. The White House says the recommendations were not specifically about Benghazi, but rather the situation across the Muslim world, and that the talking points on the attack were prepared by the CIA.

Graham maintains they are damning evidence.

"What was the purpose of this email? To protect the White House politically from the damage that could've been done from the truth coming out about Benghazi, six, seven weeks before the election," Graham said. "They were trying to create an impression to the American people that this wasn't a broader foreign policy failure and it was totally disconnected from reality on the ground. They were trying to protect the President's re-election. They saw Benghazi, I think, Bob, as a threat to his re-election. It wasn't a fog of war problem they had. They created a political smoke screen."

Graham also weighed in on the crisis in Ukraine, arguing that the President Obama is "delusional" about the situation there. He said that the country has been "dismembered" and that he feared a civil war was imminent.

"What I would do if I was the administration, I would sanction the energy economy of Russia, the banking system of Russia and try to drive the Russian economy into the ground," Graham said. "And I would have armed the Ukrainian people, no American troops on the ground, so they could defend themselves. I would change the cost benefit analysis. I would go after Putin's economy and if Russian people are happy with Putin, make them pay a price."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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