Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee saw some of the documents they wanted Tuesday about last year’s attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, but they were not sufficient to clear a path for President Barack Obama’s CIA director nominee.
Most panel members wouldn’t discuss the documents shared with them Tuesday in advance of a committee vote on John O. Brennan for CIA director on Feb. 28. The documents were related to email traffic about administration talking points prepared shortly after the attack. Republicans had demanded the information and delayed a previously planned committee vote on Brennan’s nomination over the documents.
Some non-committee members have threatened to place holds on the Brennan nomination because of their own information demands related not only to Benghazi, but to other topics as well, such as Obama administration policy on the use of armed drones on U.S. soil and Brennan’s views on the use of harsh interrogation methods. And at least two of those senators said Tuesday they were still awaiting answers to some of their questions.
Meanwhile, Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., told reporters that the email traffic showed that Brennan, as the top White House counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, was “involved” in the drafting of the Benghazi talking points, which Republicans have alleged downplayed terrorist connections to the attack. He did not specify how Brennan was involved.
Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Brennan played only a “small” role in producing the talking points.
More Follow-Up Questions
It was not immediately clear what the terms were under which the documents were shared. Some senators said they couldn’t discuss them because they were classified, while others said the information was deemed “committee sensitive,” a designation that doesn’t necessarily mean classified but that still forbids disclosure by the panel. A Republican aide said earlier this week that the documents were not classified.
Panel member Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said the documents did not answer all of his questions about Benghazi and that he would have follow-up questions.
Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said that Brennan’s role was minor.
“John suggested two minor edits that were stylistic,” Vietor said. “He simply re-ordered two sentences and took out the words ‘from across many sectors of Libyan society’ from one sentence. Neither edit made its way into the CIA’s final product which was then used by the State Department and with Congress.”
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, neither of whom sit on the Intelligence Committee, have threatened to place a hold on Brennan’s nomination until the administration hands over the Benghazi emails. On Tuesday, both said that they potentially could be satisfied by the documents being shared with the Intelligence Committee.
“It depends on what the answers are,” said McCain. Graham said “I imagine I would” be satisfied with the administration’s gesture if Intelligence Committee Republicans were satisfied as well. “I have friends on the committee,” he said. “They can keep me apprised.”
Harsh Interrogations Also An Issue
McCain, though, also has threatened a hold on Brennan over questions about his views on the harsh interrogation methods used by the George W. Bush administration during a time when Brennan served in the CIA. McCain said Tuesday that Brennan had still not answered those questions.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., also has threatened a hold on Brennan’s nomination until the administration answers whether it has the authority to conduct drone strikes on U.S. soil, something he called a “horrific idea.” And even if the Intelligence Committee receives an answer, it won’t be enough, Paul said. “It needs to be public,” he said.