Sen. Graham threatens hold on Brennan over Benghazi questions

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) threatened Monday to put a hold on President Obama's nomination for CIA director, saying he wanted more answers from the administration over its response to the deadly attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

"I have not forgotten about the Benghazi debacle and still have many questions about what transpired before, during and after the attack on our consulate," Graham told Fox News. "In that regard, I do not believe we should confirm anyone as director of the CIA until our questions are answered."

ADVERTISEMENT
Graham said that while he did not have a specific objection to John Brennan — the president's counterterrorism adviser who was tapped Monday to fill the position — he hoped to force administration officials to provide additional testimony on Benghazi. 

Graham has criticized the administration over comments made by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who initially blamed the violence on a "spontaneous" protest over an anti-Islam video. The administration later acknowledged the attack was a planned terrorist assault and Rice said she relied on then current intelligence assessments and never intended to mislead the public. 

But GOP lawmakers have questioned if the White House sought to downplay the terrorist angle in the attack, which killed four Americans, for political advantage.

Graham, along with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), met privately with Rice and acting CIA Director Michael Morell in November. But at the time, Graham said he was unsatisfied by Rice's explanation that she was basing her comments on the best publicly available intelligence talking points at the time.

"I'm more disturbed now than I was before that, the 16 September explanation of how four Americans died in Benghazi, Libya, by Ambassador Rice," Graham said, calling her explanation "disconnected from reality."

"If anybody had been looking at the threats coming out of Benghazi, Libya, it [would] jump out at you this was [an] al Qaeda storm in the making," he said. "I'm very disappointed in our intelligence community — they failed in many ways — but with a little bit of inquiry and curiosity I think it would be pretty clear that to explain this episode as related to a video that created a mob that turned into a riot was far afield."

Brennan is a 25-year veteran of the agency. If confirmed, he would replace Morell, who has headed the CIA since former Director David Petraeus stepped down last year amid revelations of an extramarital affair.

On Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney urged a quick confirmation of the president's national security nominees, who include Brennan, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) for secretary of Defense and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) for secretary of State.

"The president, as you heard him earlier today say, hopes that the Senate will take up these nominations, as well as the nomination of Sen. Kerry for secretary of State, as soon as possible because of the importance of filling these positions quickly, importance to our national security," Carney said.

McCain has also indicated he might look to block Brennan's nomination over concerns about so-called "enhanced" interrogation techniques at the agency.

"I appreciate John Brennan's long record of service to our nation, but I have many questions and concerns about his nomination to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, especially what role he played in the so-called enhanced interrogation programs while serving at the CIA during the last administration, as well as his public defense of those programs," McCain said.

On Monday, Carney defended Brennan's record on the subject.

"One, at the time, Mr. Brennan wrote a letter in which he made clear that he opposed so-called enhanced interrogation techniques," Carney said. "And two, for the past four years, John Brennan has served as this president’s chief counterterrorism adviser. And it is this president who banned torture as one of his first acts in office, and he has implemented that policy and many others with the remarkably capable assistance of John Brennan."

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) on Monday also said he might delay Brennan's confirmation to seek answers over a number of high-level intelligence leaks in 2012. 

“This investigation needs to be resolved before his nomination can move forward,” Cornyn said in a statement.