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. Sorensen

    Look at that picture!! They look like brothers. Classic GOP politicians. Old, out of touch with real people, boring,
    overweight, irrelevant. The GOP truly has to change everything or go down the drain forever.

    November 18, 2012 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  2. NameNC_Right

    Obama lied and an ambassador died

    November 18, 2012 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  3. Tammy Lozano

    Lets reopen the case against the Bush/Cheney admin regarding Irag. The illegal invasion supported by the same GOP members that are mouthing off now. Lets just forget about the budget, jobs, ect and focus on Iraq and Benghazi..
    Really....GOP still havent figured out why US citizens didnt vote for them, sad angry old men

    November 18, 2012 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  4. ed

    who cares! Let focus on issues that are relevant and can have an impact on the country moving foreard. Just more GOP BS

    November 18, 2012 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  5. Hopenhimer

    The SEALS went in and killed Bin Laden for Obama, but Obama left seals to die at the hands of Al Qaeda. This will never go away.

    November 18, 2012 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  6. Carolyn

    Again, as I have stated over and over again to friends, this is no country for old men! Why are we wasting time with men who have been in the Senate for so long. Who are unwilling or just too old to deal with the issues we have now. Dispite the warnings the US may have had, technology has made the timeline of responding to change from months in McCain's time of fifty years ago to seconds in the 21st century. Intelligence informaton can change just as quickly.

    The fact that they can't seem to wrapped their minds around this fact shows why they need to be out of office now! I also live in AZ and McCain is so out of step with the times it just sad. These officials all need term limits and manditory retirement after age 70. Please step up and step down!

    November 18, 2012 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  7. What a difference an election makes

    Repubs never met a conspiracy (involving Dems) that they didn't like!

    November 18, 2012 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  8. joeallard

    Romney's continued silence over his gaffe about Obama’s gifts to voters is more and more confirmation that Romney and his American Taliban are completely out of touch with American voters: and, therefore utterly meaningless. Aside from the wealthy elite the Republicans no longer have a party that can win national elections. They must concede and drastically change their ideology. I can only imagine how upsetting that is to them: And, I love it.

    November 18, 2012 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  9. Bayousara

    ARIZONA: Please come and pick up your son John McCain and take him home.

    November 18, 2012 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  10. Penny Wright

    Another Greedy Old People's party fail.

    Our consulate was attacked. It took a while to figure out by whom.

    End of story.

    November 18, 2012 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  11. Don

    Yes it is! GOP, get a grip and stop being sore losers! Grow up. This is why you did not win, and will not win again (If you don't get a grip on reality). Moving on and forward.

    November 18, 2012 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  12. SafeJourney

    I wanna know why Issa and repubs outed CIA agents spy mission in Lybia. Do you know why?

    November 18, 2012 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  13. annieL

    I want the truth all right. I want the truth about what "deals" Congressional leaders and the President are doing behind closed doors on the budget, taxes, Social Security and Medicare. I think the Republicans are just keeping this Benghazi nonsense alive to cover their budget shenanigans. That's where the anti-government "terrorists" are attacking working Americans' security. They're aiming their guns at Social Security and Medicare, that much is clear. CNN, turn off Senator McCain's and Graham's microphones and put your reporters to work where we need them.

    November 18, 2012 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  14. JOSH

    Certainly you can't believe a word from somebody who was chasing women using his rank. I guess he is still clueless about who or when this attack was plotted. So at the end, he decided to put the blame in the WH and POTUS for his own fault. Republicans want answers about Benghazi, well ask McCain, after all he was responsible for arming the so called lybians "freedom fighters" who now are the core of those islamic groups who turned their weapons against the US consulate. Someting like Islamic Fast and Furious, right?Everybody knows except the CIA nd Republicans that Benghazi was a stronghold for Al Qaida militants and these criminals went into Iraq to fight and kill american soldiers. The second in command in Al Qaida was a lybian terrorist, but we decided once again to party with the wrong guys and gave tem thousand of weapons. So, now you are looking fore answers? GIVE ME A BREAK.

    November 18, 2012 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  15. Erok

    So sad that the Republicans forgot who killed the four Americans. They would rather stall any improvement in our economy or progress than go after the real murderers. Same old story.

    November 18, 2012 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  16. Chaos

    @Dave "There needs to be a full investigation and a trial"

    Just more conservative conspiracy theories.

    November 18, 2012 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  17. Iowa Mary

    when will these republicans start acting their ages? Why are they making such a big deal out of this? Where were these same inquiring minds when we were attacked on 9/11/01 when Bush ignored all the warnings? The story then was we have to stand behind the president, now its different and we have to pick apart nothing just to stay relevant on fox news?

    November 18, 2012 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  18. John

    All this Is a GOP witch hunt, All they want to do Is see what they think they can blame the President on. There was over 2500 American live lost In Iraq and they have been attack on other American In other parts of the world and the Republican don't seem to worry about any of these. And the Congress and the Senate Intelligence Committee much not be doing there JOB to good If it take this long for them to know and they till don't know.

    November 18, 2012 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  19. Majestic

    Republicans. You LOST! Get over it!
    ! ! ! ! ! ! ! H i l l a r y i n 2 0 1 6 ! ! ! ! ! ! !

    November 18, 2012 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  20. JohnF

    How can we trust an administration that don't provide security after two attacks, leaves our personnel for dead, and than lies to the American people about it to cover it up!!! Maybe we should also be asking why major media outlets are also trying to sweep this under the rug!

    November 18, 2012 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  21. Lee

    It is a good thing McCain was never president, He is so volatile, he would be dropping bombs everywhere and blow up the world. He definitely needs" time out "

    November 18, 2012 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  22. Surthurfurd

    Dave: so you opposed Bush?

    November 18, 2012 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  23. Orion

    Funny how the GOP scrambles to invent problems. There are plenty of actual problems in this country right now – one being the impending budget issues they refuse to compromise over. While tragic, Bengazi is hardly the largest security disaster to occur to the US. Does anyone even remember 911 anymore? Who's watch did that happen on again...?

    November 18, 2012 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  24. Surthurfurd

    McCain ignored the efforts of families to get POW's out of Vietnam and we listen to him?

    November 18, 2012 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  25. Disgusted

    Th motivation? Obama had just said that Al Qaeda was on the run. Couldn't let the cat out of te bag that it was not the truth just before election day. Not that it would have made any difference. I'm sure lots of lies will be coming out in the next few years. He is a politician, after all.

    November 18, 2012 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
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