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Chilly reception for McCain idea of special Benghazi panel

Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., Thursday continued to raise questions about the Obama administration’s handling of the aftermath of the September attacks in Benghazi, Libya. In an interview on Today McCain said “it is either a cover-up or it is incompetence” for President Barack Obama to have continued to say as late as Sept. 25 that the attack on the U.S. consulate was a reaction to an inflammatory anti-Islamic video.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) discusses the Obama administration's handling of the aftermath of the Benghazi attack, accusing the president of "either a cover-up or incompetence." McCain also vowed to block any nomination of UN Ambassador Susan Rice for secretary of state to replace Hillary Clinton.

McCain told NBC’s Matt Lauer the most vital question that former CIA director David Petraeus must answer when he testifies Friday before both the House and Senate Intelligence committees is “why we were not prepared for this attack, where there was ample evidence, because of previous attacks and overwhelming intelligence information, that attacks were very likely on our consulate. There had been two (attacks) previously in April and June. On Aug. 15 they sent back a message that in the case a concerted attack they could not defend the consulate.”

McCain on Wednesday introduced a resolution to create a special eight-member select Senate committee to examine the attack on the consulate in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods, and Sean Smith, were killed.

But McCain’s proposal got a mostly chilly reception Wednesday from his several of his fellow senators NBC News spoke with, even from some Republicans who have been his allies in the past.

Lawmakers were shown real-time film of the assault on Benghazi, where Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports.

A State Department Accountability Review Board (ARB) is investigating the attack. That panel includes former Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Pickering and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, now retired from the military.

But McCain argued that the Obama administration had no credibility to carry out an investigation of its own actions or inaction.

Joining McCain in calling for the special committee was Sen. Lindsey Graham, R- S.C., who said “a segmented, stovepiped investigation – where you have three different (Senate) committees going off in three directions and not comparing notes…is going to lead to failure.”

The bipartisan opposition to McCain's idea was rooted in the prerogatives of Senate committees that are already conducting their own investigations of the attacks. Senators serving on those committees defended their ability to conduct a thorough inquiry and seemed to see McCain’s efforts as potentially encroaching on their turf.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R- Ga., senior Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday, "I told him (McCain) today that I'd just seen his resolution and I'm not sure whether it's not just a duplication of what we're doing."

Chambliss’s committee will hear testimony from acting CIA director Michael Morell and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper about the attack in a closed session Thursday.

Another Republican on the Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina said, "Listen, I think it's way too early to be calling for a special committee. I think you've got to allow the structure we have of oversight to function. And I think that the Intelligence Committee is more than capable of handling this."

Another opponent to McCain was the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who said of McCain’s proposal, "I really don't view it as being necessary. The Intelligence and the Homeland Security Committees are already investigating.”

Her committee got a briefing from CIA, FBI and State Department officials Wednesday. Collins  pointed out that “Sen. McCain is a valued member of the Homeland Security Committee and can play an important role in help us uncover the facts."

Another Republican, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who serves alongside McCain on the Armed Services Committee, reacted to McCain’s proposal by saying, "I'm listening. There's merit in the suggestion, but I'm not wedded to that."

A Democrat in the Intelligence Committee, Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, flatly rejected McCain’s proposal: "We have all the relevant committees, including the one that I sit on which is Intel. We're having a hearing on that tomorrow and he (McCain) sits on the Intel Committee as ex officio (as the senior Republican member of the Armed Services Committee)."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who has been mentioned as possible replacement for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, opposed McCain’s idea Wednesday.

“What we ought to do is first let the ARB make its determinations,” Kerry told reporters. “I think everybody ought to just step back. There’s a serious process in place and Secretary Clinton has put it in place.”

He added, “I have confidence in Tom Pickering and Admiral Mullen to put facts together.”

One senator who did voice support for McCain’s idea of a special select committee was Sen. Jim Inhofe, R- Okla., who serves on the Armed Services Committee and is slated to be its ranking member in the new Congress.

Inhofe said the lack of protection at the consulate, despite Stevens’s requests for more security, was “inexcusable” and “it’s got to be investigated.” Stevens was killed in the attack. Inhofe said, “I knew Chris Stevens. He was a friend. He was in my office right before he went over there.”