Republican Senator Threatens Delay on CIA Pick
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's choice of John Brennan to be the next CIA director hit a snag Tuesday as a Republican senator threatened to delay the nomination until the Obama administration provides answers on the deadly assault in Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said his request was not a reflection on White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, who was nominated on Monday.
Graham, whose opposition helped scuttle U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's hopes of becoming secretary of state, said the Senate should not confirm any Obama nominee for the nation's top spy post until the administration elaborates on the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
"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 senator said in a statement. "I have tried -- repeatedly -- to get information on Benghazi, but my requests have been repeatedly ignored."
He added that the administration's "stonewalling on Benghazi" must end.
In the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, Republicans criticized the Obama administration for blaming spontaneous protests over an American-made, anti-Muslim video. They suggested the administration was trying to play down an act of terrorism leading up to the November election, even though Obama used that description in the days after the raid.
Kevin Bishop, a spokesman for Graham, said late Tuesday that it's possible the senator would put a "hold" on Brennan's nomination, but the lawmaker hopes he doesn't have to take that step. In his statement, Graham signaled that he would try to slow the nomination.
The White House dismissed the politicization of the issue and pressed for the Senate to act quickly and deliberately on Brennan's nomination.
"It would be unfortunate, I think, if in pursuit of this issue, which was highly politicized, the Senate would hold up the nomination of John Brennan to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
An independent review board released an exhaustive report last month that found "systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels" of the State Department that led to inadequate security at the mission in Benghazi.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is likely to deliver her long-awaited testimony on Libya before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 22, although the State Department says the date hasn't been finalized.
Illness and a concussion delayed her congressional appearance in December, one of her last acts as secretary of state. Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat and former presidential candidate, to replace Clinton after Rice withdrew her name from consideration.
Graham and Sen. John McCain, also a Republican, directed much of their ire over the administration's handling of the attack at Rice, who said in a series of Sunday talk show interviews on Sept. 16 that the assault may have been a protest that got out of hand. Rice's widely debunked explanation was based on talking points from the intelligence community.
Graham said he wants answers on who changed Rice's talking points and deleted references to al-Qaida. He said lawmakers were told that the director of national intelligence deleted the references, then were told it was the FBI. Hours after a meeting with Rice in late November, Congress was informed that the CIA had changed the talking points.
"This ever-changing story should be resolved," Graham said. "It is imperative we understand who changed the talking points just weeks before a presidential election and why."
Graham, who is up for re-election next year, has been an outspoken critic of the administration on Libya.
Carney pointed out that Obama pressed for swift confirmation of his national security nominees when he announced the selections Monday, and the administration hopes there are no unnecessary delays. He noted that the FBI is continuing its investigation of the attack, the independent review board issued a scathing report and Obama wants to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice.
"The president is focused on those issues, not what seems to be the continued political fascination with appearances on Sunday shows," Carney said.
Brennan was expected to have an easier time on the path to Senate confirmation than Chuck Hagel, Obama's choice to run the Pentagon. A handful of Republicans have announced opposition to their former Republican colleague, and several skeptical Democrats reserved judgment until Hagel explains his views on Israel and Iran.
-- Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Darlene Superville, Lolita C. Baldor, Lara Jakes and Connie Cass contributed to this report.