WASHINGTON (AP) — 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.
In his first postelection news conference, Obama also reaffirmed his belief that the US 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 UN 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 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 last week’s 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 US 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.
Obama brushed aside questions about whether he was informed about the FBI investigations that led to the disclosures quickly enough. White House officials first learned about the investigations last Wednesday, the day after the election, and Obama was alerted the following day.
‘‘My expectation is that they follow the protocols that they've already established,’’ Obama said. ‘‘One of the challenges here is that we’re not supposed to meddle in criminal investigations and that’s been our practice.’’
Obama will have to face the departure of several key Cabinet secretaries and White House staffers. Among those expected to leave are Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry are the leading candidates to replace Clinton. Rice is a favorite of the president, but she has faced intense criticism for her role in the initial administration response to the deaths of four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya, during an attack
‘‘When they go after the UN ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they've got a problem with me,’’ Obama said. ‘‘And should I choose, if I think that she would be the best person to serve America, in the capacity of the State Department, then I will nominate her. That’s not a determination that I've made yet.’’