WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Wednesday he has seen no evidence that national security was threatened by the widening sex scandal that ensnared his former CIA director and top military commander in Afghanistan.
Facing questions from reporters, Obama also reaffirmed his belief that the U.S. can’t afford to continue tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, a key sticking point in negotiations with Republicans over the impending “fiscal cliff.” He said, “The American people understood what they were getting” when they voted for him after a campaign that focused heavily on taxes.
And he defiantly told critics of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, a potential candidate to lead the State Department, that they should “go after me” — not her — if they have issues with the administration’s handling of the deadly attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya. His words were aimed at Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who have vowed to block Rice’s potential nomination.
The president addressed those topics and others for about 50 minutes in his first news conference since he won re-election last week. His party also picked up seats in both houses of Congress, but the president refrained from claiming a broad mandate, other than for protecting middle class families.
The tangled email scandal that cost David Petraeus his CIA career and led to an investigation of Gen. John Allen has disrupted Obama’s plans to keep a narrow focus on the economy coming out of the election. And it has overshadowed his efforts to build support behind his re-election pledge to make the wealthy pay more in taxes in order to reduce the federal deficit.
Obama said he hoped the scandal would be a “single side note” in Petraeus’ otherwise extraordinary career.
Petraeus resigned as head of the CIA last Friday because of an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, who U.S. officials say sent harassing emails to a woman she viewed as a rival for the former general’s affection. The investigation revealed that that woman, Jill Kelley, also exchanged sometimes-flirtatious messages with Allen.