Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham says he is unsatisfied with the White House responses to questions about the attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Libya and he will block President Obama’s pick to lead the CIA until more information on the Sept. 11 incident is disclosed.
Obama has nominated White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan to replace former CIA director David Petraeus, who resigned after admitting to having an affair.
But Graham told USA TODAY in an interview that he will not allow the nomination to go forward until the White House turns over items it has declined to provide, such as drone video of the attack and emails on talking points that falsely claimed the attack was a protest that got out of control.
The role of the Congress is to provide oversight of the executive branch, Graham said. “When Brennan comes up I think it’s very relevant what role did he play?”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she believes a vote should be held regardless of the questions, saying the issue is whether Brennan is qualified.
“Mr. Brennan made clear in two confirmation hearings that he will be a strong and capable CIA director,” she said.
Tommy Vietor, spokesman for Obama’s National Security Council, said Republicans first demanded that former secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testify, then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and now they “are moving the goal posts yet again.”
Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, including two former Navy SEALs, died when the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi was attacked and set on fire by al-Qaida-linked terrorists. The attack lasted more than seven hours.
Graham delayed a vote of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Obama’s pick to head the Defense Department, former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, until the White House stated whether Obama contacted government officials in Libya to help rescue the Americans that night. The answer came back that Obama contacted no one.
More needs to be answered, Graham said, such as what light can the survivors shed on the attack. The FBI interviewed survivors who were evacuated from Libya on Sept. 12.
“I want to know who the survivors are and for the appropriate committees to interview them,” Graham said. “We know it was clear from the beginning it was a terrorist attack. I want to know what kind of help they asked for.”
Graham also wants to review White House emails that would show the evolution of the unclassified “talking points” that United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice used when she said on Sunday talk shows Sept. 16 that the violence was “spontaneous” and erupted from a protest to an anti-Islam video
Graham said he wants the emails because “we have two or three versions of who changed them.”
Graham has yet to see a drone surveillance video taken while the attack was ongoing that could have been viewable in Washington. And he wants the administration to explain why it kept the facility in Benghazi open even after the British and other Western governments and organizations had pulled away for safety reasons.
Graham said he believes the lack of proper security at U.S. installations in Libya was a result of an Obama policy of maintaining a small American “footprint” there.
“They outsourced our security in Libya to a non-existent Libyan government,” Graham said.
Oren Dorell writes for USA Today.