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. Steve Fielder

    Just as they did with the Fast & Furious "scandal" that went absolutely nowhere towards proving any wrongdoing by the White House or the Attorney General, desperate, spiteful Republicans will continue to bash Ambassador Susan Rice without letting the truth or the facts get in the way of their baseless accusations.......

    November 18, 2012 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  2. JohnF

    If CNN wants to win back the trust of the American people they need to pursue this as vigorously as they pursued the Iraq controversy. When they pursue problems regardless of which party is in the white house, than the people will trust them again!

    November 18, 2012 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  3. Debby

    WEll questions should remain. An american ambassador was tortured who asked for help but didn't get any. 3 others were killed that tried to help him. This incident is very sad.

    November 18, 2012 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  4. The King

    Keep going GOP..this is nothing and deep down you know it. But, you didn't get what you wanted on 7Nov, so like the petulant children you are, you are throwing a hissy fit. Do they have no shame? No sense of decency? Do they really believe this gets traction anywhere outside their delusional bubble of fear/hate?
    I look forward to '14, they're going to make it easy.

    November 18, 2012 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  5. jennifer in Houston

    They will continue to milk this thing for as long as they can.. throwing rocks at others is so much easier than addressing urgent domestic issues. The GOP just can't get over the fact that they are losers who lost the election and are trying to link this to Obama stealing the election.

    November 18, 2012 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  6. Lola

    The last election was the country telling the republicans to stop with all the obstruction and power games. All this nonsense from the right is about them trying to cause trouble so they can squeeze back some power. If you republicans keep this up we will vote all of you out the next go around. Which would be fine with me.

    November 18, 2012 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  7. meetings with not-as remarkable men

    truth is what you make it ...and many of these less than remarkable men don't want to drink from that water, its about living in the circle of comfort they have created from the grad illusion of being proud, strong and brave... they have forgotten they are mere organic beings that have a close but unknown expiration date.

    November 18, 2012 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  8. BCasero

    What, precisely, would the Republicans like to do about Benghazi? Are they interested in finding out the facts and make sure that such a tragedy doesn't happen again? Or is their only purpose to try to score political points over a tragedy? I'll bet on number 2.

    November 18, 2012 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  9. Scott

    Republicans continue to make everything about politics, rather than what's best for the country.

    November 18, 2012 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  10. beancube

    Please imagine that if our southern states are in Libya, and people are protesting in response to foreign religious provocation. We won't see any foreigner or diplomat that those right wing religious war sellers kill is not a spontaneous event. Just burn their bibles in front of their churches to see or proof religious right wing terrorists will not become spontaneous.

    November 18, 2012 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  11. PNWjim

    Where was the hopeless Repuplicans out rage when we sent troops into Iraq when Bush and Chenney had conflicting intell. But still made a committment to killing thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands innocent Iraqian citizens.How many diplomats where killed during their adminstration and no out cry.THANKS FOR KEEPING US SAFE PRESIDENT OBAMA.

    November 18, 2012 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  12. Independent from NH

    If these Republican fools in Washington do not start to earn their keep I say it is time for a revolution.

    November 18, 2012 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  13. GeneK1953

    The reason GOP senators don't want to accept that the initial talking point descriptions of the attack were crafted by the intelligence community to avoid giving out details that would compromise classified sources is that they were running around blabbing that information all over the media for weeks and compromising the classified sources the intelligence community was trying not to compromise with its original talking points.

    November 18, 2012 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  14. oneslydragon

    Here we go again.... The GOP not knowing when to drop an issue and make things up that do not exist.

    only reason they keep looking, is they figure every does the stuff they do, they way they do. Like set up Powell to lie to the UN about WMD's, THEN go to war, an unjust war...

    Completely miss all that intel on the original 9/11, one of the 20 in custody with his laptop in hand, f;light schools call and saying we have a bunch of guys learning how to fly but do not care about landing or taking off. The GOP missed that, lied to america and now they want to do this, after the Dems did the right thing and got on board to protect country, while the GOP lied.

    Petraeus let the wrong head do the thinking and is paying a price privately and publicly, Now we will again what the GOP did to Clinton 6 years of a special prosecution that Billie bob finally gave them an opening with Monica gate. They will do anything to keep no-issues alive.

    Why did the Dems not say al-quida attack the day of and after the attack, they were gathering facts fools.

    November 18, 2012 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  15. Rina

    This is sooooo ridiculous! We had TWELVE attacks against U.S.Embassies, more people died than just four – all between 2001 and 2008. I don't remember the "outrage" then. I don't remember the war of "semantics". The bottom lines is, those who don't like Obama wanted a FULL explanation right then, right when it happened, to heck with an investigation! The people who do, were wiling to wait for a full investigation and see what really happened. McCain has really been the most disappointing of all – really, really liked him until he picked caribou barbie to be his running mate. What I want to know, Mr. McCain, is where were you during the hearing? For all the bluster and griping, and you don't even show up? A scheduling conflict? I think you should have attended the hearing, even if you were meeting with God himself. So, don't pretend what you know, when you weren't there and your cronies are still playing partisan politics. And the GOP goes on as before – losing elections!

    November 18, 2012 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  16. oneslydragon

    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.”

    There were no WMD's the GOP Admin lied to America, so what.

    November 18, 2012 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  17. 2T

    If this Benghazi issue does not get the Obama impeachment the GOP so wants, I am afraid there will be many more attempts in the next 4 years. To think our $$$ go to pay for this bunch of sore losers...

    November 18, 2012 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  18. john

    Are the Republicans wasting our time about what words was used. Are they fighting over semantics. Whether the word :terrorist" was uttered or not by Ms. Rice instead of extremists, most people uderstand that the word extremists" means terrorists. Even today, no intelligence can say for sure that the attack was premidated or pre-planned. Had the events in Cairo about the movie not happened, this tragedy wouldn't have occured.It is time to stop this witch hunt by the republicans instead time to look at the roots of the tragedy such as budgets cuts, intelligence faillure, missteps and also bring the culprits to justice.

    November 18, 2012 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  19. Alfred E. Neuman

    Nothing will satisfy the Republicans. Their pathetic griping and sniping reinforces how petulant these old white men are. How about doing some productive with the rest of your miserable lives?

    November 18, 2012 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  20. Voter

    I thought the fiscal cliff was the most important issue facing the country. The only people that think this is important is McCain, Graham, and Faux News. Do you jobs...

    November 18, 2012 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |

    Nothing to see here. Unhinged GOBP losers looking for a witch hunt. The hearing slapped them in the mouth like America did on Nov 6.

    November 18, 2012 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  22. CRob

    Stop all the time wasting. Time to do your job for the American people. Response? So this is your response to losing the election. Wasting time and money and not getting anything done? Get to work on our problems instead of trying to keep bs going.

    November 18, 2012 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  23. Saboth

    Absolutely no one cares about Benghazi but rabid Republicans frothing at the mouth to prove Obama wrong. A terrorist attack happened in the Middle East. Happens daily. It's sad, but expected. Republicans want to go round and round about how Obama "phrased" something. Meanwhile, the economy still stinks, no jobs bills passed, we need patent reform, real healthcare reform, education changes, campaign finance reform and about 100 other vitally important matters. If Republicans put 10% of the effort into getting some work done as they have trying to make Obama look bad, we might make some progress in this country.

    November 18, 2012 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  24. Dutch in Illinois

    Someone needs to inform the Republicans that the election is over (but then they are still having issues with the fact the universe doesn't revolve around the planet earth)!!.. McCain and Graham are examples of what cost them the election and will again.. arrogance and the lack of intelligence, a trade mark of a Republican...

    November 18, 2012 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  25. Independent from NH

    To clarify, revolution against the republicans and their hypocritical tomfoolery. Vote them out!

    November 18, 2012 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
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