November 18th, 2012
12:03 PM ET
6 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. David

    In testimony it was said that the message was strategic in order to support capturing the attackers by ensuring they did not know that they were the subject of the investigation – the continued politicization of this is disgusting and the GOP should face consequences for their behaviour on this issue. They are making a big deal of the messaging, which was strategic and had no impact on anything other than to ensure the bad guys were caught.

    November 18, 2012 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  2. Mac Rao

    This is a political game by republican leaders. These guys are waisting tax payers money for a useless issue. Bengazii issue was over. There are several pressing issues need to be addressed right now like fiscal clef. Country need bipartisan cooperation to move forward.

    I ask republican leaders where these leaders hiding when president Bush pushed for a useless war destroying a nation and killing several innocents including Americans. Guys just stop all this nit picking on each other. Look for country's future.

    God bless America.

    November 18, 2012 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  3. ssrx8

    Let's spend the next 4 years fixated on Obama and a trumped up scandal. Nothing has changed.

    November 18, 2012 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  4. zandhcats

    Do we have army to protect all the embassy in foreign countries? It's only the Republicans stir this never ending fuzzy,and try to bring down the President. Do more productive works for the country,you bunch of hypocrites!

    November 18, 2012 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  5. Anne

    the real reason was to manipulate the general election vote. Just consider that Mr. Obama won only 50.6% of the popular vote, and Mr. Romney 47.8%. If Benghazi was properly exposed at the right time, Mr. Obama may have lost the election.

    November 18, 2012 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  6. Everyman

    We need 500 more invetigations into this Benghazi thing. Meanwhile, congress will ignore job creation, taxes and balanced budgets. They have their priorities straight.

    November 18, 2012 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  7. Tony

    Dave, the economy crash began in 2008, when Bush was president. Just because Bush left office does not absolve him of responsibility. To use a recent example, just because the election is over does not change the historical fact that Romney ran a lousy campaign. If Republicans never accept responsibility for the economy or anything else, we will keep telling them whose fault it is.

    November 18, 2012 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  8. Albert Nodlesh

    Everything about Benghazi discussed this week was known at least before October 8th. Why has the majority of the media suppressed their rightful and expected duty to inquire, review and validate the information that was available since at least that time, until after the election? Check the Weekly Standard edition of October 8th.

    November 18, 2012 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  9. Vachon

    it is my personal opinion the reason it was downplayed like it was. so that Obama could get reelected.

    November 18, 2012 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  10. freya

    Well they could do that but as a taxpayer I'm not going to pay for it. I payed this people to work for me not play conspiracy games nor waste time at pointing fingers. The Republican has been like a brat who did not gets it's way since the Watergate.

    November 18, 2012 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  11. Dumbpolitics

    Condi Rice lied about Iraq and thousands died. She had a report from the FBI about a group of men learning to fly airplanes but not learning how to land them in Sarasota. She did nothing with the report. Thousands died on American soil. She still became Sec. of State.

    November 18, 2012 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  12. coflyboy

    In their ongoing effort to atrophy our government Republicans have found a new topic to dwell on. Remember the last time we had a Democrat President? Republicans atrophied our Government over the Monica Lewinsky affair. Can we PLEASE focus on what is important and fix our country????? How much is this nonsense costing us? Can we look at Bengahazi, learn from the mistake, and move on? Stop using every event to shirk your job responsibilities!!!!!

    November 18, 2012 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  13. Dude in Colorado

    @ Dave – This isn't a question of whether or not we can blame Bush for Benghazi, I've never even heard that argument, where did you get it from? For me this is an example of GOP hypocrisy in demanding an "investigation and trial" becase of Obama's perceived failure, why didn't you folks demand "investigation(s) and trial(s)" when the following happened:

    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

    All under Bush?

    Well, where was the outrage then? Where were the investigations then? It's called "hypocrisy", look it up.

    PS Just a simple observation, it has come out that references to "al Queda" were removed BEFORE the talking points reached the White House (according to King via Patreus's testimony Friday) but does that mean the terms "spontaneous" and references to "Innocence of the Muslims were put in? Or were they always there? Those are questions I'd like answers to, myself.

    November 18, 2012 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  14. us_1776

    Protest was result of film.

    Attack was result of militants exploiting protest.

    Death of ambassador was his own fault for refusing additional security.

    Death of other 3 Americans was their own fault for disobeying orders to stay at the CIA annex.

    End of story.


    November 18, 2012 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  15. John

    The republicans are going to lose again and again if they don't stop looking for excuses. Bengazie, gifts, Sandy. Which excuse really matters? The real reason is that their agenda does not smell good to most of the voters. Uncompromising ideology is not a plan for successful government. This fiscal cliff will require fiscal compromise, not ideology. How many tea partiers will return to office after the next election if a compromise is not reached? Unless republicans move closer to the center, they will soon be history.

    November 18, 2012 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  16. Michael Murphy

    They keep this thing going because John McCain is about to lose his committee and he needs another on to head up or he becomes a normal Senator and no body wants to talk to someone who isnt on a committee. That is the only reason he and Graham are pushing this, There is nothing sinister here like Bush lying to the country about WMD

    November 18, 2012 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  17. Vachon

    i am not a fan of dems or rep, but they knew it was happening for 5 hours and no help. wth is wrong with this pic??

    November 18, 2012 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  18. randy

    O good grief. Will someone give the GOP something real to care about? At this point it's hard to tell if Fox is parroting them or if they're just taking their cues from Fox. I swear the GOP has become a party run by its propaganda arm. It's just a tired schtick and we have real problems to deal with in this country.

    I'm very glad we reelected a grown up instead of letting these sad clowns back into the White House.

    November 18, 2012 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  19. William

    While thousands hae died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hundreds are dying daily now in Israel and Palestine, the sore loser republicans are going to scream the "Benghazi war cry" for the next four years in their obstruction to anything positive done in this country for years to come.

    November 18, 2012 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  20. Steve S

    The GOP will beat this drum for all it's worth.
    They hope to deflect public awareness away from their many failures as a political party.

    November 18, 2012 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  21. Tina

    @Dave please already. When are you on the other side going to stop blaming this president for all of bushs failures and believe me there are many? You on the other side blame this president for starting the bailouts when in all truth it was bush that started those. when are you going to stop blaming this president for the economy tanking when it actually started in 07 when georgie was still in the WH? need I go on here? THis is all a hunt trying to find anything to blame this president for. Yes people were killed and it needs to be investigated so it does not happen again, but the blame lies with the idiot terrorists who did this not with the UN Ambassador..( although unlike georgie boy this president has taking responsibility for it) You on the other side have no moral ground to stand on. NONE!

    November 18, 2012 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  22. iBod

    “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 Senator Roy Blunt.

    Well, Senator, there are two kinds of characteristics defining information that the CIA receives. It's called Classified and Declassified. Do not expect to be told classified information; and I am sure, that regarding Benghazi, there is still a LOT of classified information. When the time is right, the information will be declassified; but until then, don't go around blowing this out of proportion, calling this a cover-up and stuff like that. Nothing - Absolutely Nothing - about the incident in Benghazi speaks "impeachment" or "resignation"...Nothing whatsoever. You people need to get over the hump, already. Creating controversy where controversy is nonexistent. Pathetic pieces of trash. Go away.

    November 18, 2012 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  23. G

    I think this is going to be as big as Watergate was. And it should be. Government personell were murdered and the Obama administration is trying to cover their butts. I hope Obama dug his own (political) grave with that one. I wouldn't put up with a republican president trying to hide this either.

    November 18, 2012 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  24. Charly

    Americans are so mired down in partisan politics that you have lost all ability to reason.
    You have re-elected a President who once again has no plans or ideas how to lead your country , get the economy started and get your debt under control.
    Obama has been and still is AWOL on international affairs and security and blaming everything on Bush and the Republican Party is a feeble excuse because you choose to face facts as they stand now.
    Sometimes one has to hit rock bottom before one sees reality and that is were you are heading now , hopefully it won't be too late.

    November 18, 2012 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  25. joe

    while we r ivestigating this attack, we might as well investigate 9/11 and wmd in iraq, what do u say dave?

    November 18, 2012 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
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