NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Republican Sen. John McCain strongly defended a longtime aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton against unsubstantiated allegations that her family has ties to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, repudiating charges leveled by another Republican, Rep. Michele Bachmann.

In a speech on the Senate floor, McCain praised the work and patriotism of Huma Abedin, who is also married to former New York congressman Anthony Weiner.

Without mentioning Bachmann by name, McCain assailed the attacks on Abedin, a Muslim, as an example of ignorance and fear that defames the spirit of the nation.

“Huma represents what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully.” McCain said. “I am proud to know Huma and to call her my friend.”

Bachmann, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, made the allegations in a June letter to the State Department as well as in a letter Wednesday to fellow Minnesota lawmaker Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat.

Bachmann said Abedin’s late father, mother and brother are connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations. She cited foreign media reports and an outside study and added that Abedin’s position “affords her routine access to the secretary and policy-making.”

In her letter to Ellison, Bachmann wrote, “Given what we know from the international media about Ms. Abedin’s documented family connections with the extremist Muslim Brotherhood,” how was she not disqualified for a U.S. security clearance.

“These attacks have no logic, no basis and no merit and they need to stop,” McCain said. “These sinister accusations rest solely on a few unspecified and unsubstantiated associations of members of Huma’s family, none of which have been shown to harm or threaten the United States in any way.”

McCain pointed out that Abedin’s father died two decades ago and that the congresswoman failed to provide “one instance of an action, decision or a public position that Huma has taken while at the State Department that would lend credence to the charge that she is promoting anti-American activities within our government.”

Clinton recently traveled to Egypt and urged President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi of the military to work together. The two are in a power struggle.

At the State Department, Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines called the accusations “nothing but vicious and disgusting lies, and anyone who traffics in them should be ashamed of themselves. I would hope that hearing the remarkable statement from someone of Senator McCain’s stature gives her (Bachmann) pause in doing so any further.”

In his letter to Bachmann, Ellison said the congresswoman, who was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, provided no information to substantiate her claims about Abedin. Ellison also is a Muslim.

McCain, who described himself as someone who understands the pain “when a person’s character, reputation and patriotism are attacked,” criticized Bachmann’s actions.

“When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it,” he said.

In a statement, Bachmann said the letters were being distorted and her intent was “to outline the serious national security concerns I had and ask for answers to questions regarding the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical group’s access to top Obama administration officials.”

Abedin worked for Clinton when Clinton served as a U.S. senator representing New York and sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.

Meanwhile, Abedin and Weiner gave their first interview to People Magazine since Weiner resigned in June of 2011 after admitting that he sent lewd pictures of himself to several women via Twitter.

They said they’ve been in counseling since the sexting scandal last year, but said their marriage remains strong.

“I’m proud to be married to him,” Abedin said.

In that same People interview, Abedin said she wanted people to know they were a “normal family.”

“My husband did a really stupid thing,” she said. “It was an extremely painful time.” But, she said, “Anthony has spent every day since then trying to be the best dad and husband he can be.”

For more from the People Magazine interview, click here.

Some people are also wondering if Abedin is working right out of the playbook of her boss, Hillary Clinton.  Clinton has dealt with similar predicaments when it came to the sex scandals of former President Bill Clinton.

Friends say that since Anthony Weiner’s wife is like a second daughter to the Clintons, it’s hard to know whether she is getting direct advice from them or copying their playbook, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported.

“If they’re following the model that president and senator, now Secretary of State Clinton, used to get him out of trouble then they’re following the best model in political propaganda ever done,” said political consultant Hank Sheinkopf.

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(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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