Sen. Chambliss mum on source of questionable bin Laden photo

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, declined to reveal the source of a questionable photograph of Osama bin Laden that he told reporters about on Wednesday.

Chambliss said he was not given the photograph that supposedly depicted bin Laden’s corpse.

“No one gave it to me, I saw it,” he said Thursday.  

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Chambliss on Wednesday told reporters he was shown a digital photograph of a dead bin Laden, but the Georgia Republican wouldn’t concede Thursday that he had been duped.

"I don't know whether it was an inauthentic photo, but it was represented as bin Laden after he was shot,” he said Thursday. “It was bin Laden. I don't know if it was after he was shot."

Chambliss and two other Republican senators set off a scramble Wednesday when they told reporters that they had seen a picture of bin Laden’s dead body, which President Obama has declined to release publicly.

Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) backtracked after claiming to have seen photographic evidence of the al Qaeda leader’s death and admitted that what they saw was not authentic.

If Chambliss was duped, it’s an embarrassing moment for the Georgia Republican, who would be poised to become chairman of the Intelligence panel if the GOP regains the majority in 2013. 

Chambliss wouldn’t say where he saw the photo or who showed it to him.

"You know, that issue is so immaterial, I'm not going to discuss it," he said.

Democrats have pounced on Brown, a vulnerable incumbent facing election next year, for claiming to have seen a classified photo of bin Laden’s body.

The Massachusetts Democratic Party called on Brown on Thursday to explain his source of the bogus picture.

“As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Brown owes the people of Massachusetts more details as to what led him to believe that he was shown an authentic photo, and then what led him to feel comfortable enough to speak out publicly about the photo," state Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh said in a statement to The Boston Globe.

Brown told New England Cable News on Wednesday: “I have seen the photos and, in fact, we’ve received the briefings and we’ll continue to get the briefings.”

Brown’s office later backpedaled, telling the cable network the photos were not authentic. 

Brown’s spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom told the Globe that Massachusetts Democrats should be focused on the corruption allegations facing former Democratic state House Speaker Salvator DiMasi.

"With the Sal DiMasi corruption trial going on, I'm surprised that John Walsh has the time to criticize Republicans," Fehrnstrom said.

Ayotte told reporters early Wednesday that another senator had shown her a photo of bin Laden’s corpse but later admitted it was a fake.

Her office did not respond to a request for comment.  

All three Republicans are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, which conducted the nighttime raid that killed bin Laden.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has called on the president to make the photos of bin Laden available to all 19 members of his panel.

But Republicans have stopped short of demanding broader dissemination of the pictures, which White House officials fear could trigger a backlash in the Arab world.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said it’s up to Obama whether to make the photos available to the families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. 

"That's up to the president to decide. That's really a presidential decision," McCain said.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said the families of 9/11 victims deserve consideration but left the final decision to Obama.

"I think out of respect for the 9/11 victims the administration should consider their request for closure on the issue. But I would leave that to the administration and the 9/11 survivors," he said.