President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser broke his silence Friday to deliver a passionate defense of his boss Susan Rice.
Ben Rhodes called charges by Republicans that she spied on Donald Trump and his staff "a wild goose chase," for which they should apologize.
"Frankly what I think we saw is an absolutely disgraceful attempt to smear Susan Rice's reputation yet again for just doing her job," Rhodes said on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports."
"Even what they are alleging she did would have been a very routine thing that any senior national security official might do in the course of their day."
Earlier this month, Bloomberg's Eli Lake reported that White House lawyers discovered Rice had requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports connected to the Donald Trump transition and campaign.
The pattern of Rice's requests was discovered in a National Security Council review of the government's policy on unmasking the identities of "individuals in the U.S. who are not targets of electronic eavesdropping, but whose communications are collected incidentally," according to Lake.
That prompted some Republicans to call for an investigation of Rice for an alleged "abuse of power."
In his first television interview since leaving the White House, Rhodes insisted: "Susan Rice was just the latest example of them trying to justify a false tweet from President Trump about being wiretapped."
He was referring to Trump's charge in March that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower in the final weeks of the presidential campaign — an allegation that was debunked by U.S. intelligence officials.
"They know there's no evidence to substantiate that. They've been on a wild goose chase in search of that evidence. Susan Rice did her job, she did it admirably, and I think they owe her an apology," Rhodes said.
He also criticized Trump's assertion that Iran is not living up to the spirit of the nuclear-arms agreement that was hammered out under the Obama administration.
"Iran is complying with the nuclear deal. So I have no idea what President Trump is talking about.
"Certainly, it is the case that there are other Iranian behaviors like its support for terrorism that we strongly objected to and I'm sure the Trump administration does," Rhodes told Andrea Mitchell.
"But the bottom line is, you would rather have the country not have a nuclear weapon that engages in that type of behavior. They certified themselves that the deal is working. Iran is complying, and they should stick to it."
He said the Iran deal is what is made in order to avoid tense situations like the one in North Korea, where its leader Kim Jong Un is testing missiles and issuing threats about nuclear attacks.
"We have inspectors in Iran. We have limitations on the Iranian program so they do not have a nuclear weapon. In North Korea, you see what happens when there is no deal. They have a nuclear capability, they're testing nuclear weapons, they're testing missiles," Rhodes said.
"You would prefer to not have a second nuclear crisis. And if this administration tears up the Iran deal, they will be committing one of the biggest self-inflicted wounds that I could imagine in foreign policy, because basically they would be creating a second nuclear crisis for themselves when frankly the Iran deal solves that problem."
To solve the North Korean threat, Rhodes suggest "a coordination of pressure and sanctions on the North Koreans, but then the pursuit of some type of diplomacy that at least freezes their program."
"Because what you don't want is for the program to evolve to a capability where they can put a warhead on a long-range missile that can hit the United States. If we can at least get to a pause button through diplomacy backed by pressure, I think that buys some time and space to deal with the problem.
"What they have done instead is issued these threats, raised expectations, their strategic patience is over. All kinds of, I think, loose talk around potential military actions, announcing aircraft carriers that are going in the wrong direction headed towards North Korea. So I don't think they really know what they intend to do to follow through on their tough talk."
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