By Kristina Wong - 04/09/14 06:28 PM EDT
Senate Republicans on Wednesday said they would keep pressing for answers from the Obama administration on the Benghazi terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2012, hours after House Democrats urged them to "get past the Benghazi witch-hunt."
"We have committed to the families of the four brave Americans that were killed that we will not stop until this issue is completely well known to the American people, those responsible for it are held accountable, and those who carried out this heinous attack are brought to justice," said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) at a press conference on Wednesday.
McCain said it is still not clear what role the White House played in changing talk points used by then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice for television interviews describing the attack. At the time, Rice said the attacks few out of a spontaneous protest over an anti-Muslim video.
He also said it is not clear why the administration used that explanation for days after it was believed the attack was planned by terrorists.
Graham seized on recent testimony by Mike Morell, the CIA deputy director during the time of the attack. Morell acknowledged during a House Intelligence Committee hearing last week that he had changed some of the talking points that ended up being used by Rice.
Graham said that Morell had not mentioned during a private meeting months before that he had changed the talking points.
"I will not accept that he should be forgiven because that would destroy oversight as we know it today," he said.
Graham added that Morell should have sided with the CIA Libya station chief who had concluded there were no protests, instead of CIA analysts who believed that there were.
"The administration wants people to believe that the tide of war is receding," Graham said, adding that the administration had an ideological desire to maintain a light military footprint in Libya.
"The administration continues to deny the reality of the growing threat that we face."
Ayotte said Congress needed to keep pushing for answers as long as no one has been brought to justice for the attack.
"We have held no one accountable...Why has no one been brought to justice for these terrorist attacks? That requires congress to keep pushing," she said.
The senators renewed their call for a joint select committee to investigate Benghazi thoroughly, saying that current Benghazi hearings have been stove-piped by committee, which has not allowed members of Congress to gain a full picture of what happened.
Earlier in the day, members of the House Armed Services Committee met with then-commander of U.S. Africa Command Gen. Carter Ham, for what House Democrats said was at least his sixth interview by lawmakers.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) argued at their own press conference that the attack has already been thoroughly examined by Congress, and that calls for more hearings are motivated by political gain.
"When something happens like what happened in Benghazi, we absolutely have to investigate it," said Smith, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.
"But unfortunately it has not been that. It has been relentlessly partisan, and a relentless effort to embarrass the administration — not to find facts, not to find better solutions and better approaches to these problems, but to desperately find something that they can use to embarrass the administration."
"I have watched with great disappointment as Republicans have wasted millions of taxpayer dollars in pursuit of partisan conspiracy theories," said Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight Committee. "They have launched repeated baseless claims about our nation’s military that have turned out to be completely false.
"It's time to move on and move past the witch hunt."