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Graham Links Benghazi Probe to Brennan Confirmation

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Graham said in a statement that he wants information on “who changed Ambassador Susan Rice’s talking points and deleted the references to al-Qaeda.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham says he wants answers on the intelligence community’s response to the terrorist attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya before John O. Brennan is confirmed as CIA director, suggesting he could slow the nomination.

“My support for a delay in confirmation is not directed at Mr. Brennan, but is an unfortunate, yet necessary action to get information from this administration,” the South Carolina Republican said in a written statement released Tuesday.

His office did not respond to a question about whether Graham intends to put a formal hold on the nomination, but the threat is implied.

Specifically, Graham said he wants information on “who changed Ambassador Susan Rice’s talking points and deleted the references to al-Qaeda,” a reference to the unclassified talking points about the Sept. 11 attack that the intelligence community circulated to public officials in the days after it occurred. Rice used those talking points as the basis for her comments on a series of Sunday news programs five days later, in which she said that the attack grew out of a spontaneous protest over an anti-Muslim video, an assessment that was later debunked.

“We were first told the Director of National Intelligence deleted the al-Qaeda reference in the talking points because they did not want to let al-Qaeda know we were monitoring them. We were then told the FBI changed the talking points so as not to compromise an ongoing criminal investigation. Finally, during a meeting with Ambassador Rice and acting CIA Director [Michael] Morrell, I was told it was the FBI who changed the talking points. However, later in the day the clarified it was the CIA who had changed the talking points,” Graham said in his statement. “This ever-changing story should be resolved.”

Republicans cited Rice’s Sunday show comments as their main rationale for their fierce opposition to her candidacy for secretary of State. She withdrew her name from consideration for the post last month, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., was subsequently nominated.

Graham, along with Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., led the charge against Rice.

“I have tried — repeatedly — to get information on Benghazi but my requests have been repeatedly ignored,” Graham said Tuesday. “I do not believe we should confirm anyone as Director of the CIA until our questions are answered.”

McCain also raised questions about Brennan’s nomination, which President Obama announced Monday along with former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of Defense. Brennan currently serves as Obama’s counterterrorism and homeland security adviser. The Arizona senator, however, focused on Brennan’s role in and defense of “the so-called enhanced interrogation programs while serving at the CIA” under the George W. Bush administration. He did not mention Benghazi.

But Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., the incoming ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, did.

“The tragedy in Benghazi still pose many questions that have not been adequately answered for those of us in Congress and for the American people,” Inhofe said in a Monday statement. “As John Brennan’s nomination goes forward, the American people expect us to get answers on these and other subjects related to his nomination.”

Other senators from both parties, however, have expressed support for the 25-year CIA veteran, setting up expectations that his confirmation process would be relatively smooth.

Brennan isn’t the only administration official still facing questions about the Benghazi attack, which killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to testify later this month on the State Department’s failure to adequately secure the diplomatic compound in Benghazi and Foggy Bottom’s response to a tough independent review of went wrong before and during the attack.

Clinton was originally scheduled to testify before Christmas, but a bout of the flu and a subsequent fainting spell that led to a concussion sidelined her for weeks. She was hospitalized late last month after doctors found a blood clot near her brain. She returned to work this week and State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland told reporters Monday that she will testify on Benghazi “while she is still sitting Secretary of State,” as Republican lawmakers have insisted.

That will slightly extend Clinton’s time at Foggy Bottom — she initially intended to step down upon Obama’s inauguration to a second term, but the Senate does not reconvene until the next day. Kerry is expected to be easily confirmed after Clinton has completed her testimony before both chambers of Congress.

“We’re working now with the committee on scheduling both the Benghazi hearing, the confirmation hearing, getting the sequence agreed with them,” Nuland said Monday.

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