President Barack Obama directed criticism directly toward U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham Wednesday for criticizing U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s comments after the attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Obama referred to Graham, R-S.C., and his close GOP colleague, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, as he defended Rice’s description of the fatal 9/11 attack.

Rice is among those believed to be under consideration as Obama’s Secretary of State to replace the outgoing Secretary Hillary Clinton.

“If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after someone, they should go after me,” Obama said. “I’m happy to have that discussion with them.

“But for them to go after the 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.”

Graham said hours before he was “dead set” against promoting anyone who was an essential player in the Benghazi situation.

“How could she say five days later definitively there was no evidence of an al-Qaida attack when there’s a ream of evidence?” Graham said.

“This is about the role she played around four dead Americans when it seems to be that the story coming out of the administration, and she’s the point person, is so disconnected to reality I don’t trust her,” he added.

“And 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.

“Somebody has to start paying a price around this place.”

Obama spoke after McCain, Graham and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., called for Congress to appoint a select committee to get to the truth behind the events that led to the killing of Ambassador Chris Stephens and three other Americans.

“I think this is a symptom of a greater problem in the Mideast, quite frankly,” Graham said. “Conspiracy theories are running rampant. How many of you are getting calls, ‘Have you heard this?’ ‘Have you heard that?’ ”

Graham said three current congressional committees aren’t coordinated in their approach.

“If we go down this segmented, stovepipe road, we’re going to fail the American people and not have any hope in getting the truth out,” he said.

A select committee of Congress has been appointed during extraordinary crisis, such as Watergate and the Iran-Contra Affair.

U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said Wednesday he was glad to hear outgoing CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus said he would testify in Congress regarding the Benghazi attack.

“I certainly think there are a lot of unanswered questions,” Scott said. “(Petraeus) has got very good insight. I’m thankful he’s going to bring that insight to the Hill and testify.”

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771 or at rbehre@postand