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. Tom

    Hey Dave, There were multiple embassies bombed, attacked and live lost under Bush and I am not even counting the Iraq mess that he was, to speak kindly, disingenuous about. So spare everyone the false conservative outrage and get on with the real problems that we face or...just keep listening to Fox "News" and spout your dubious party talking like a good troll.

    Here is the link for the media matter article on how Charles Krauthammer attempted to whitewash W's record with the very same thing 7 seven times during his administration. Read the truth...it only will hurt for a little while...

    November 18, 2012 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  2. Tommy G

    >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:

    Were any of the cases cited denied adequate security? Answer: no.

    Did any of the cases cited last for 7 hours and have no one go to help? Answer: no.

    Were any of the cases cited cover up and lied about? Answer: no.

    As usual, the leftists and Democrats throw out smoke and lies to conceal their incompetence and cover up. Some things never change.

    November 18, 2012 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  3. Tom

    sorry, "party line talking points"

    November 18, 2012 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  4. Murf

    How about instead of playing sour grapes, you go about dealing with the countries economic issues? The GOP has NO CLUE other than cutting taxes for the super-rich to get jobs growing. It's clear there is no strategy, there are no new ideas, it's simply dig in, don't compromise, and let's get nothing done for another 4 years. I am tired of the stonewalling and all of the ttricks of attempting to divert the public's attention. Get to work, or go home!

    November 18, 2012 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  5. tam

    Like with the birther issue, there is no end, no matter what logic and truth say.

    November 18, 2012 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  6. Pablo695

    “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,” said Sen Ray Blunt, Missouri Republican said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

    Funny how these same "rules" never seemed to be important during the Bush years!!

    November 18, 2012 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  7. Vidyashanti

    Republicans are always looking for an issue where they can condemn Obama Administration. Senile senator from Arizona wanted to keep going in Afghanistan, wanted to keep 200,000 troops in Iraq for 10 yrs, wanted to invade Libya and Syria. This he calls leadership. He accuses the president of leading from behind. All these could not gacomplished as liked. Now he is attacking Susan Rice. President said it was an terror attack around 9/13 or 9/14. What more they want? It was directly from the President with Secretary of State standing next to him. What difference it makes whether Susan Rice did not say the words 'terrorist attack' on talk shows? Would that have changed the situation? The victims of the violence would not come back. Majority leader of the house knew it. He could have come out and exposed it if that emphasis on the words 'terrorist attack' was important. But no, instead of doing some constructive for producing jobs this republican gang is out to destroy the Obama Presidency.

    November 18, 2012 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  8. Amazed

    I amazed that still, to date, some people still cast blame on the Republicans. It wasn't the republican administration that ignored urgent calls for support from our military when they were try to defend our embassy and ambassador.

    If you continue to support a less than a tfull investigation into the wanton disregard foir those killed, You are the ones with blood on your hands.

    ANd our country is in your hands????? Disgracefull!!!

    November 18, 2012 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  9. 4sanity

    Dave, there has been a full investigation. Pity Senator McCain keeps missing it by holding press conferences. And until the terrorists who committed this act are caught, you can't really have their trial. Of course if you are somehow refering to President Obama going on trial, how about we first clear house with the prior administration (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield, Rice, Powell, plus every member of Congress who voted for war, every political lawyer like Gonzalez who gave cover for the administration to commit torture, every general who covered up encouraged or covered up abuses) that led to thousands of American lives lost and >100,000 Iraqi/Afghan dead. Then you can flap your arms at windmills some more and come up with an actual legal reason for indicting someone in the current administration. Good luck with contorting yourself to come up with something.

    November 18, 2012 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  10. Patrick

    For all of the CNN readers ... Benghazi is a small city in Lybia where a United States Ambassador and three consulate personal were murdered in awell planned terrorist attack on September 11, 2012. You may be confused thinking by previous goverment media reports, before the investigation began, claiming that the mission was a "spontaneous act resulting from protests over an anti Isamic film on you tube".

    November 18, 2012 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  11. Dave

    Translation: Republicans don't want this to be resolved because having less to complain about is a net loss to their core political strategy.

    Let the 2nd term scandal hunt begin! If Obama doesn't make a mistake just go ahead and lie. Your base wouldn't know even if they cared.

    November 18, 2012 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  12. Vidyashanti

    Republicans are always looking for an issue where they can condemn Obama Administration. The aging senator from Arizona wanted to keep going in Afghanistan, wanted to keep 200,000 troops in Iraq for 10 yrs, wanted to invade Libya and Syria. This he calls leadership. He accuses the president of leading from behind. All these could not gacomplished as liked. Now he is attacking Susan Rice. President said it was an terror attack around 9/13 or 9/14. What more they want? It was directly from the President with Secretary of State standing next to him. What difference it makes whether Susan Rice did not say the words 'terrorist attack' on talk shows? Would that have changed the situation? The victims of the violence would not come back. Majority leader of the house knew it. He could have come out and exposed it if that emphasis on the words 'terrorist attack' was important. But no, instead of doing some constructive for producing jobs this republican gang is out to destroy the Obama Presidency.

    November 18, 2012 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  13. Jean

    This morning there was John Mccain on TV, singing the same song he made up again. How President Obama didn't call the Benghazi attack as a terrorist attack for weeks...bla, bla bla.Outrage, outrage. When we know that in fact the day after the attack in the Rose Garden , President Obama clearly stated that this was a terrorist attack and he would do all possible to find and punish those who were responsible. Since then we were told the situation was under investigaton and the CIA is involved etc. SO here we are, McCain, the sorehead looser, leading the first charge agianst the president in order to discredit him. Since the GOP couldn't win honorably, they are going to try to undermine the adminstraton no matter what the cost to our country. CIA operations usually aren't out there for public consumption and shouldn't be used for poliltical vendettas. Of course that didn't stop the GOP from outing Valerie Plame to punish her husband ..or going even back further, accusing Presidnent Clinton on murdering his friend. When will the Republican arty regain it's honor? They started going dirty years ago and are getting even worse.as time goes by. Then they wonder why they lose elections.

    November 18, 2012 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  14. Chutzpah

    There's no other explanation... except that it bought time to try and go after the attackers (according to Petraeus).

    Republicans... it's all about us and our sad attempt to get Mitt Romney elected president.

    November 18, 2012 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  15. Smeagel4T

    Apparently the GOP heard that the congressional approval rate popped back up to 10% from 9%. They're clearly trying to drive it back down again.

    November 18, 2012 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  16. Ken

    Petraeus made it quite clear that in the initial talking points he sent out, they stated terrorists were involved in the attack and they used onging demonstrations (not related to a movie clip at this point) as cover to get close and attack. Yet once this information got into the review process, someone somewhere removed all references to terrorists, and al-queda, and added in the references to the movie clip. The question is who made these changes, who approved them, and why! The whole intra-agency review process on talking points is controlled and coordinated by White House staff (as this is what the President will speak to). So who in the White House decided to squash all talk about Terrorists and blame a movie clip? Were they doing on someone's orders and if so who? If not on someone's orders, how can the review process be so weak that one lone person could do this? We need answers ... and Obama and company are being silent.

    November 18, 2012 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  17. Smeagel4T

    It's so good to see that the GOP is already campaigning for 2014 and 2016. Why do something about jobs when you've got a witch hunt to keep you busy!

    November 18, 2012 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  18. Carol

    They did give the people the information they had.Patreus said that classified information had been omitted from talking points.

    November 18, 2012 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  19. vic , nashville ,tn

    Benghazi Benghazi, enough, Just I want to know what is my tax rate next year.
    Benghazi was terrorist attack Al- Qaeda followers did that, We know that , what we learn how we will protect our embassies in future end of discussion
    Focus on economy

    November 18, 2012 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  20. NMR

    Milked for political gain/leverage. I'm sure rumors at the moment were coming fast and furious so who cares what was said. Let's get to the nuts and bolts of the issue. Timeline of attack, attack obviously occured over many hours, what happen to the response that allowed 4 Americans to die, need a good believable explanation here, not from Fox or CNN. Republicans/Democrats incapable of separating themselves from the politics to offer true insight. Need a special investigator of foreign origin without any meaningful connections to either party or business interest to investigate.

    November 18, 2012 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  21. Jean

    John McCAin used to have a good reputation as an honorable and fair minded man. due to his military record as a surviving POW and as a responsible senator representing his state. The last few years his behaviour has gotten so eratic that it makes one wonder if he isn't losing his mind. Really.!

    November 18, 2012 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  22. Robyn

    Republican in Congress The old boys who cried wolf over and over and over and over again.

    ENOUGH ! ! !

    Shut your dirty, disloyal mouths and agree to the President's plan to help fix the economic and
    debt problems that the Republican Congress caused.

    November 18, 2012 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  23. dubrats

    if the dems. say nothing was wrong with the way things were handled...then bring on the investigations...you have nothing to hide...right?....oh wait.....

    November 18, 2012 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  24. gordyb

    This is nothing but the same old GOP attempt to smear the president. They don't care about who killed our diplomats they just want blood here in the US. They are pathetic unpatriotic hypocrites. Mccain is the biggest loser, just an angry old man who lost an election four years ago and still can't come to grips with it. He needs to retire.

    November 18, 2012 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  25. Ron

    Now we get to hear from the Obama Cabal as they attempt to misdirect the investigation, to make it one about an incompetent UN ambassador and an equally incompetent administration.

    Let me slow read to those without intellectual competence.... The issue is that when our embassy was under attack, someone in this administration allowed a take to continue on the annex, put our military in harms way as the annex attacked continued and neglected to supply any support while our citizens died in Libya. Our ambassador that fully supported the ARAB spring to bring democracy to Libya ,was sacrificed by this administration, so that an election could be won.

    And still you offer insults based on party line.

    If you want to know what a true heroic leader would have been, asked McCain. He surely has a better concept of heroism than those who hide behind a keyboard, deseminating journalistic feces.

    November 18, 2012 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
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