WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Barack Obama won't second guess the FBI's handling of the e-mail probe the led to the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus.
In his first White House press conference since winning reelection, the president was asked if the FBI should of notified his staff about the investigation before Petraeus resigned.
"I don't want to comment on the specifics of the investigation," Mr. Obama told reporters. "The FBI has its own protocols in terms of how they proceed."
The president said thus far he's seen no evidence of national security being compromised by the extramarital relationship between Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell. The FBI is looking into whether Broadwell had access to classified documents, and -- if so -- how she obtained them.
Obama said that FBI's operation began as criminal probe, and that the White House wouldn't normally be part of that information loop.
"We're not supposed to meddle in criminal investigations, and that's been our practice," Obama explained.
He praised Petraeus, who commanded U-S troops in Iraq and Afghanistan before leaving the military to head the nation's top spy agency.
"From my perspective, at least, he has provided this country an extraordinary service. We are safer because of the work that David Petraeus has done."
Petraeus resigned his post at the CIA, citing the affair as a personal failure to meet his own standards. It came to light because of anonymous emails Broadwell allegedly sent to Florida socialite Jill Kelley.
Those messages led Kelley, who is a friend of the Petraeus family, to contact an FBI agent she knew in Tampa. The FBI traced the emails to Broadwell and inadvertently discovered her affair with Petraeus.
In the meantime the FBI search of Kelley's computer found a large volume of e-mail messages exchanged between Kelley and Gen. John Allen, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Those familiar with the investigation have told several national publications that there's no allegation on an affair between Kelley and Gen. Allen, but thousands of pages of email were turned over to investigators.
General Allen also received an anonymous email last summer warning him to "beware of Jill Kelley." Allen forwarded that to Kelley, apparently assuming it was a joke originated by her.
President Defends Ambassador Rice
The president's strongest words at the press event came in defense of Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations. She's under fire from Senate Republicans for how she initially explained the Sept. 11th attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya.
Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of Florida and John McCain of Arizona said they would block any attempt to promote Rice to Secretary of State, should Hillary Clinton leave that post as part of a second term cabinet reshuffle.
"The reason I don't trust her is because I think she knew better, and if she didn't know better she shouldn't be the voice of America," Sen. Graham told reporters at the Capitol.
"I am dead set on making sure we don't promote anybody that was an essential player in the Benghazi debacle."
Rice went on network Sunday talk shows five days after the attack and said it was the work of heavily armed opportunists who took advantage of street protests, most likely tied to the uproar over an anti-Islamic video an American citizen posted on YouTube.
"She should of known what the situation and circumstances were and not tell the world on all the Sunday morning talk shows," Sen. McCain, who was defeated by Obama in his run for the presidency in 2008, told reporters.
The attack claimed four lives, including US Ambassador John Christopher Stevens. The State Department and White House offered several different theories of the origin of the attack in the days following.
President Obama used the words "act of terror" in his initial reaction, but it took days for investigators to settle on the scenario of a planned terrorist attacked timed to the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks in the U-S.
"If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I'm happy to have that discussion with them," President Obama said Wednesday, during his defense of Rice.
"But for them to go after the U-N ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation, is outrageous."
The president prefaced his remarks by saying he's not commenting on speculation about possible cabinet changes, and whether or not Rice will be nominated for a promotion to the top post in the State Department.
Obama also fielded some questions about upcoming negotiations on a budget agreement that would fend off the so-called "fiscal cliff" if no action is taken.
"We cannot afford to extend the Bush Tax cuts for the wealthy. What we can do is make sure that middle class taxes don't go up," Obama asserted.
The January 1st deadline for major budget cuts and the repeal of Bush-era tax cuts was part of an agreement he made with Republican leaders to keep the federal government running last year.
Obama reiterated his desire to raise the marginal rate on those who earn more than $250,000 per year. Republicans have resisted that, based on the argument that small business owners will react to higher taxes by cutting employees.
The taxes, if implemented, would apply only to that portion of income in excess of $250,000. Failure to reach an accord would result in the rates going up across all income groups that earn enough to pay income taxes.
"Everybody's taxes will automatically go up, including the 98 percent of Americans who make less than $250,000 a year, and the 97% of small businesses who earn less than $250,000 a year," Obama warned.
"We should not hold the middle class hostage while we debate tax cuts for the wealthy. We should do at least what we agree on, and that's to keep middle class taxes low."
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