November 18th, 2012
12:03 PM ET
2 years ago

After hearing Petraeus’ testimony, legislators' questions on Benghazi remain

(CNN) – Republican legislators on Sunday questioned the motives behind the Obama administration’s initial description of the September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, after Friday briefings on Capitol Hill from the former CIA director.

Asked whether the Obama administration’s initial description of the attacks as “spontaneous” was an attempt to avoid a discussion about terrorist groups being involved, Sen. Roy Blunt said, “Until you hear a better explanation, that's the only conclusion you could reach.”

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“You have to have a really good reason why you don't give the American people the information you had, unless you think you're somehow going to really endanger the people that are in other parts of the world,” the Missouri Republican said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The attacks resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya. David Petraeus, who recently resigned as director of the CIA, said in closed-door congressional briefings on Friday that the attack was planned and launched by terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda, according to lawmakers and those who attended. He downplayed the use of the word “spontaneous,” according to these accounts.

Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has faced sharp criticism from Republicans for describing the attack as “spontaneous” in appearances on Sunday talk shows the week of the attack. The questions have included why she was the administration’s spokesperson on the matter and why references to terrorism were removed - and by whom - from the declassified talking points she used in her appearances.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has joined with fellow Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona in saying he would not support a promotion for Rice. They say they don’t buy the suggestion that the “spontaneous protest” explanation was part of the public narrative so that al Qaeda would be unaware of the U.S. intelligence community’s suspicions.

“Isn't it kind of off - if the reason is to take al Qaeda out of the equation to make sure that al Qaeda doesn't know that we're onto them - that the story they told helps the president enormously three weeks before the election?” he asked on NBC. “Because I don't buy that for one bit, that doesn't make sense to me.”

Graham and McCain have said they would block Rice’s nomination to serve as secretary of state, should she be nominated. Rice is seen to be a possible successor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has said she does not want to serve through President Barack Obama’s second term but will stay in her post until a candidate is ready.

Obama fiercely defended Rice at a news conference on Wednesday but did not say who his top choices for the position are.

"If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after someone, they should go after me," Obama said. "When they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she's an easy target, then they've got a problem with me."

Graham has said that there are “a lot of other qualified people” who could be chosen and that Rice’s comments following the Benghazi attacks cause him to distrust her. "The reason I don't trust her is that I think she knew better, and if she didn't know better, she shouldn't be the voice of America," Graham said.

Sunday on “Meet The Press,” he said that if her name is advanced, “I'm going to listen to what Susan Rice has to say, put her entire record in context - but I’m not going to give her a plus for passing on a narrative that was misleading to the American people, whether she knew it was misleading or not.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, said on NBC, “I don't know who we were protecting” by removing references to terrorism from the talking points.

“I do know that the answer given to us is we didn't want to name a group until we had some certainty,” Feinstein, a Democrat, continued. “Well, where this went awry is, anybody that brings weapons and mortars and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and breaks into an asset of the United States is a terrorist in my view.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, echoed Blunt’s sentiment.

“I know the narrative was wrong and the intelligence was right,” he said, also on NBC. “The narrative as it went, from at least the CIA and other intelligence agencies, was accurate, as we know today, was an act of terrorism.”

Rogers, a Republican, said it appears references to terrorism were removed from the talking points, but not by the intelligence community. “When asked, there was no one in the professional intelligence community (who) could tell us who changed what,” he said.

Rogers added, “This isn't just about parsing words and who was right. There was some policy decisions made based on the narrative that was not consistent with the intelligence that we had. That's my concern.”


Filed under: Congress • David Petraeus
soundoff (199 Responses)
  1. Pander Bear

    Translation: Well we heard the testimony that McCain and Graham didn't even bother to listen to and it all made perfect sense. But we got clobbered in the recent election and need this witch hunt to keep our names in the news and continue our efforts to harm the President no matter what the cost to the American people.

    November 18, 2012 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  2. onlyfacts

    These same Republican legislators who are accusing the Obama administration of withholding the truth are the same legislators who didn't question Bush EVER, after 9-11-01 or after any other attack on any Embassy. Therefore they have no credibility and their motives are purely political.

    November 18, 2012 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  3. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Over 3,000 American citizens were killed on 9-11 under George W. Bushes watch including over 5,000 killed in the Iraq war and not one(1) Republican has made an inquiry into why the Bush administration lied not even Sen. McCain. But I guess Americans don't deserve those answers and we do regret the killing of 4 Americans in Benghazi, but it didn't happen on American soil.

    November 18, 2012 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  4. ThinkAgain: All of the GOP's policies are PROVEN FAILURES

    @Panda Bear, you nailed it! This is the GOP's latest version of "birther." Regardless of the facts and the sources, the Repubs are going to insist there was a cover-up for political purposes on the part of the Obama administration.

    It's ironic that the majority of these GOPers making this noise never served. McCain did, but his combat was from the air, not on the ground where things get ugly and confusing fast.

    November 18, 2012 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  5. Mike

    What is the republican point here... They can't stop ....

    November 18, 2012 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  6. Rick Former Marine

    What's missing in my view is why is any of this relevant? Let the facts come out in investigations and deal with objective facts not Salem witch hunts. The fact is, an embassy in Libya is basically a defense-less position. The best we could have done was to abandon the place and walk away, which is not something the US is prepared to do. Does anyone remember when the Marines got blown up in Beirut? What was the big outcome of that investigation? Did Reagan's heard roll after that? What did we learn? If you put Americans in a hostile environment they are a target of those that hate us. If we couldn't defend ourselves with over 250 Marines in a barracks, why does the GOP think you can defend an embassy in Libya? You can't just drop an army around an embassy in a foreign country. Try reading some history or understanding international relations. We do need to do some re-definition around how we deal with places like Libya. It seems obvious there are times to "fold the tent," and this was one of them.

    November 18, 2012 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  7. Jack in Florida

    It was certainly a tragic event, but the Republicans are trying to keep it in the news due to sour grapes, for losing the election. John McCain is so irrelevant these days, and panty waist Lindsay Graham is just a bag of hot air. MOVE ON, there is no conspriacy. Let's get the fiscal cliff handled, so this country can grow and be great again.

    November 18, 2012 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  8. Bessy

    onlyfacts
    Yes, all of what you said is true but they don't want the American people to be aware of all of this. As long as they can continue their accusations against our president, and his administration, and as long as gullible people believe statements like this, nothing will ever change with them. Some Americans do know the truth, and the election proved that, but unfortunately there are still a lot of people out there who buy into ANYTHING the Republicans say. Too bad ! Most of it is racially motivated in my opinion.

    November 18, 2012 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  9. ThinkAgain: All of the GOP's policies are PROVEN FAILURES

    I'd like to see what the on-record reaction was for all the GOPers for the following that happened while GW Bush was President:

    2002 U.S. Embassy Karachi, Pakistan: 10 killed, 51 injured
    2004 U. S. Embassy bombed in Uzbekistan: 2 killed, several injured.
    2004 U.S. Consulate Saudi Arabia: 8 killed
    2006 US. Embassy Syria: 1 killed, several injured
    2007 U.S. Embassy -Athens: building bombed with an anti-tank grenade...fortunately no one was in the building at the time.
    2008-U.S. Embassy – Serbia: 1 dead; Embassy set on fire
    2008- U. S. Embassy- Yemen- bombed 10 killed

    November 18, 2012 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  10. kmac499

    "You have to have a really good reason why you don't give the American people the information you had, unless you think you're somehow going to really endanger the people that are in other parts of the world,” What a stroke of genuis?So now you figured it out what now?

    November 18, 2012 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  11. Mike

    What is the republican point here.... Can't they please stop

    November 18, 2012 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  12. ThinkAgain: All of the GOP's policies are PROVEN FAILURES

    If Grumpy McCain had actually attended the hearing on Bengahzi, then maybe I'd take his comments with a smaller grain of salt. But here are the FACTS about why McCain didn't attend:

    The “scheduling error” that prevented Grumpy from attending the Benghazi hearings was his own press conference DEMANDING BENGHAZI HEARINGS.

    November 18, 2012 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  13. nick

    Go ahead and keep pushing McCain and Graham and the people of your State hopefully will remember this your next election and see you two as nothing more petty polticions looking to do the President in , instead of taking care of the BIG issue we are facing.

    November 18, 2012 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  14. Me

    Wow, this is the same party which gave FALSE information about WMDs in advance that we NEVER got an apology for, and they have the audacity to accuse Obama about not having 100% of the info the day after the Benghazi attack? Such hypocrites. They really think the American people are stupid.

    November 18, 2012 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  15. Cam Spurgeon

    This GOP Stuff is totally politically driven and I am sick of hearing it. I would believe anyone in the Administration over anything McCain and Graham spout of the left side of their mouth as my mother used to say. They are hate driven, terrible losers and don't give a hang for this country. I heard somewhere that McCain was in normal rotation out of his ranking committee membership in Jan and that is why he wants a new committee so he can continue to spew his hate with his little buddy at his side/. We need to let the FBI and CIA do their job and catch and punish whoever did thi attack and instead thes idiots are word parching the Admin Secs etc.I also think the media is way overboard on this for dead news and needs to get real about giving these jokers a stage. The election is over and these clowns need to help or get out of thye wat. 2014 is coming sooner than they think.

    November 18, 2012 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  16. commonsensical

    I think it is time we had similar hearings about the Iraq war, WMD data, profiteering by Halliburton and conflict of interest by Republicans, The republican party has become a party bent on the destruction of the USA and our way of life, they need to be outed.

    November 18, 2012 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  17. ThinkAgain: All of the GOP's policies are PROVEN FAILURES

    Ex-CIA Director David Petraeus testified that classified intelligence showed the deadly raid on the U.S. Consulate in Libya was a terrorist attack, but that the administration withheld the suspected role of specific al-Qaida affiliates to avoid tipping off the terrorist groups.

    Patraeus explained that references to terrorist groups suspected of carrying out the violence were removed from the public explanation of what caused the attack so as not to tip off the groups that the U.S. intelligence community was on their trail, according to lawmakers who attended the private briefings.

    Police detectives do this all the time when investigating cases, yet the GOPers refuse to believe this explanation.

    Who are you going to trust, folks, a decorated four-star general or Grumpy McCain, a bitter, defeated man whose proven time and again he'll say and do anything to suck up to the GOP leadership?

    And don't throw that "he had an affair" thing at Patraeus; McCain has a history of womanizing and dumped the wife who stood by his side while he was a POW, trading her in for an beer heiress.

    November 18, 2012 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  18. Martha in CF

    Let me just say there are still questions remaining on Sept. 11th, 2001 and WMD's in Iraq, etc, etc. Enough said.....

    November 18, 2012 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  19. Pat

    A wise not to republicans: if you keep on with the witch hunt you will loose the election again in 2016. And you better know that the fiscal cliff is waitingn your response. Americans voted for BO. Mitt Romney had a different fundamental view compared to BO's which a 2 year old can differentiate. Remember we are going to blame the GOP if they keep on pushing Mitt Romneys policy's like they are doing now. Also Mc Cain will loose in trying to prove something BO

    November 18, 2012 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  20. Not a Fan

    John McSenator is nothing more than an instigator - the Republicans still do not get the fact that the American people voted for a Democrat for POTUS and, if they don't get their sh*t together, the Repubs are going to be unemployed like the rest of us!

    November 18, 2012 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  21. Terry D

    I have a modest request to the Republicans: unless you suspect that Obama himself was at Benghazi and abandoned his post, can you please accept that the election is over and move on with the pressing business of this country? Country before party, please. We're really getting sick of this.

    November 18, 2012 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  22. juge

    GOP Shut up already. You lost on substantive issues! Not Benqhazi! You will not win on including immigration into your platform. We know how out of step y'all are. This is the 21st century and only the old white men ( who see their #s diminishing) want to stop time. FERGET ABOUT IT!

    November 18, 2012 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  23. classybusiness

    Message to the GOP: Get back to work and quit looking for excuses to waste time "investigating" bogus conspiracy theories.

    November 18, 2012 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  24. ThinkAgain: All of the GOP's policies are PROVEN FAILURES

    Some FACTS to chew on (warning: this will be hard for GOPers to do, given they subsist on a fact-free diet):

    The names of terrorists believed to be involved were removed for reasons of national security, and all of the relevant intelligence agencies signed off on the edited text.

    According to Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), "In an unclassified document you want to be careful who you identify as being involved."

    Susan Rice relied on the intelligence community's findings to update the public five days after the attack, and everything she said reflected the best information available at the time.

    November 18, 2012 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  25. ThinkAgain: All of the GOP's policies are PROVEN FAILURES

    Some FACTS to chew on (warning: this will be hard for GOPers to do, given they subsist on a fact-free diet):

    The names of terrorists believed to be involved were removed for reasons of national security, and all of the relevant intelligence agencies signed off on the edited text.

    According to Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO), "In an unclassified document you want to be careful who you identify as being involved."

    Susan Rice relied on the intelligence community's findings to update the public five days after the attack, and everything she said reflected the best information available at the time.

    What about this do you not get?!?

    November 18, 2012 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
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