Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) sidestepped earlier Republican comments suggesting that Obama had committed an impeachable offense for allegedly distorting or covering up events in connection with the September 2012 attack on an American outpost in Libya.
“I don't think I've said any of those things,” McConnell told David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet the Press. “I think you're talking about others [who] may have said various things about this.”
McConnell spoke at an event outside the Capitol last Thursday organized by conservative Republicans voicing their outrage over Obama administration scandals where Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., a Tea Party champion, said her constituents are demanding to know, “Why aren’t you impeaching the president?”
McConnell said at the time, “This is a runaway government at its worst,” primarily addressing the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups and seizing of reporters’ phone records. Today, in discussing the administration’s editing and manipulation of talking points on the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack on a diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya that led to the deaths of four Americans including the U.S. ambassador.
“It’s clear there was inadequate security out there. And it’s very clear that it was inconvenient within six weeks of the election, for the administration to, in effect, announce that it was a terrorist attack,” McConnell told Gregory. “I think that’s worth examining. It is going to be examined.”
Gregory asked whether Republicans would tone down their attacks on the administration and whether Republicans had any specific information that the White House had engaged in wrongdoing in connection with the attack.
“Well, the talking points clearly were not accurate,” McConnell said. “I think getting to the bottom of this is an important investigation.”
Gregory asked McConnell if he would “call on Republicans who talk about impeaching the president or who talk about this as a Nixonian style cover-up with regard to Benghazi” to stop it. “What I think we ought to do is complete the investigation and find out what exactly happened,” McConnell said. “And I think we have a sense of what happened.”
McConnell spoke following a week of uproar in Washington over the administration’s handling of the Benghazi incident and revelations about the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting conservative groups and the Justice Department obtaining Associated Press reporters’ telephone numbers.
McConnell is doing poorly in the polls and may face a tough reelection campaign next year – especially if he is challenged in the primary by a Tea Party-backed candidate. His appearance at Thursday’s Republican press conference could have been an effort to excite Kentucky’s conservative voters.
Yet he backed away from some of the most extreme rhetoric about Obama. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, have called for the president’s impeachment, despite incomplete investigations into the scandals.
Emails released by the White House appeared to support the administration’s claim that the State Department played no role in shaping incorrect talking points in the wake of the Benghazi attack. Republican leaders, including National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, had already been calling for restraint. McConnell and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., appear to have decided to tone down the rhetoric.
“I don't know the answer to that question," Ryan said when asked about a cover up on Fox News Sunday. "Rather than make a conclusion before an investigation has been completed, we just need to investigate this for the sake of good government.”
As recently as last week, Ryan said the administration hid information related to the attack in Libya.
For its part, the White House continued to maintain that all of these scandals were politically motivated. “We’ve seen this playbook from the Republicans before,” Dan Pfeiffer, senior adviser to the president, told Gregory.
“What they want to do, when they’re lacking a positive agenda,” Pfeiffer said, “is try to drag Washington into a swamp of partisan fishing expeditions, trumped-up hearings and false allegations. We’re not going to let that happen….There is no question that Republicans are trying to make political hay here.”