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Graham, McCain keep pressure on Rice, hint only hearings will reveal truth

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FILE: June 7, 2012: Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, talks at U.N. headquarters in New York. (REUTERS)

Senate Republican leaders returned Sunday to demanding answers from Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, about her public explanation on the fatal Libya attacks – but they now appear to be mounting a less head-on attack.

Arizona Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, have led Republicans’ demand to know why Rice said during a round of TV appearances after the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. outposts in Benghazi, Libya, that they were “spontaneous” and sparked by outrage over an anti-Islamic video, despite intelligence reports that indicated they were terror related.

McCain has said he would block an attempt to appoint Rice as the next secretary of state. But on Sunday, he suggested that she should first have an opportunity to talk.

“She deserves the ability and the opportunity to explain herself,” McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told “Fox News Sunday.”

He also appeared to take a less confrontational approache toward Rice by saying, “She’s not the problem. The problem is the president.”

The CIA issued classified reports immediately after the attacks that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans stating the strikes appeared to be terror related. However, it remains unclear whether that information was included in the talking points given to Rice before her Sept. 16 appearances, as she and Democratic leaders have insisted.

Rice appeared to soften McCain’s persistent call for answers when she said Wednesday she had “great respect” for the Arizona senator and his service to the country and that she looks forward to discussing with him the entire issue, including some “unfounded” statements he made about her.

Graham decline Sunday to repeat his position that Rice’s post-Libya remarks should disqualify her from becoming secretary of state. But he rejected Rice’s statement Wednesday that she relied “solely and squarely” on preliminary information from the U.S. intelligence community.

“There will be a lot of questions asked of her about this event and others,” should her nomination come to the Senate for confirmation, Graham said on ABC’s “This Week." “She is obligated to do more than look at three or five sentences of talking points. … She has an obligation not to be a puppet and take what is handed to her.”

There are several investigations related to the attacks. The House and Senate intelligence committees have held closed-door hearings and are expected to continue to look for answers. And the FBI and State Department are conducting separate probes.