Lindsey Graham: Benghazi Testimony 'Threat to the Administration'

Thursday, 31 Oct 2013 04:00 PM

By Wanda Carruthers

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It would be a "threat to the administration" to allow Benghazi witnesses and survivors to testify before Congress, Sen. Lindsey Graham charged Thursday.

"When they tell me that it is a threat to my country for Congress to talk to witnesses to find out what happened, I take that to mean it's a threat to the administration," the South Carolina Republican told Fox News Channel's  "America's News HQ."

Graham announced Monday he would block nominations in the Senate until the Obama administration allowed witnesses and survivors of the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi attack to testify before Congress. 

Editor's Note: 22 Hidden Taxes and Fees Set to Hit You With Obamacare. Read the Guide to Protect Yourself.

Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked two of President Barack Obama's housing and appeals court nominations.

Four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, lost their lives in the raid on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Congress cannot allow the executive branch to have "exclusive control" over an event that marked a "major national security failure," Graham maintained.

Story continues below video.



"How could any Congress allow the executive branch to have exclusive control over the witnesses, who are the best evidence of a major national security failure — the first ambassador killed in 33 years?" he asked.

Graham said he did not just want access to FBI transcripts of interviews with Benghazi survivors, saying it amounted to the executive branch being able to "investigate themselves."

"I will only be satisfied when I have reasonable access to the people who know what happened, and I can talk to them independently — 'I' meaning the Congress," he said.

Preventing Congress from doing its job also poses a risk to the normal checks and balances of government, Graham warned.

"This idea that they have exclusive control over the witnesses for the best evidence of what happened in Benghazi — if that becomes the norm, our checks and balances as a nation have been lost," he said.

"What I am asking for is to talk to the people who were there," Graham told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference, insisting that congressional investigators have access to survivors.

A diplomatic security agent who was an eyewitness to raid already has been deposed by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Graham said that only happened because the individual was subpoenaed.

Benghazi is the rallying cry for conservatives who argue that the administration tried to mislead the American people in the heat of a presidential campaign by playing down a terrorist attack on Obama's watch. In the months since, congressional Republicans have accused the administration of stonewalling their investigation.

In a letter to Graham on Oct. 28, Julia Frifield, the State Department's assistant secretary for legislative affairs, said State was concerned about forcing the survivors to undergo "additional interviews" about the attack, according to FoxNews.com.

Frifield said the Justice Department suggested the survivors could be witnesses in a criminal trial, and any interviews outside the criminal justice process could jeopardize a case.

But Graham dismissed that notion. "You can't hide behind a criminal investigation," he said, FoxNews.com reported. "That's not a good reason to deny the Congress witness statements 48 hours after the attack."

Graham has been seeking FBI reports of interviews with survivors of the attack since last year, FoxNews.com reported.

The State Department also wrote that "because these survivors are potential witnesses in a terrorism prosecution, as well as law enforcement professionals who engage in security activities around the world including at high-threat posts, disclosure of their identities could put their lives, as well as those of their families and the people they protect, at increased risk."

Republicans who joined Graham at Thursday's news conference, including New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who served as that state's attorney general, dismissed that argument. Republicans said they would neither compromise national security nor jeopardize any prosecution.

Nominees in limbo are Janet Yellen, Obama's choice to replace Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Jeh Johnson, tapped to fill the vacancy at Homeland Security after Janet Napolitano resigned as secretary. The Senate also must decide the fate of judicial nominees as well as military officers.

On Thursday, the Senate voted not to consider the nomination of Rep. Mel Watt, a North Carolina Democrat, to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency, following resistance from Republicans over his qualifications.

Editor's Note: 22 Hidden Taxes and Fees Set to Hit You With Obamacare. Read the Guide to Protect Yourself.

That opposition led to a 56-42 vote — four votes short of the 60 needed — to stop the nomination process to a final debate and floor vote on Obama's nominee to replace Edward J. DeMarco, who has been acting director since 2009.

Less than an hour later, Republicans blocked Washington lawyer Patricia Millett, the first of Obama's three nominations to vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — considered the nation's second-most influential because it hears appeals of federal regulatory cases.

The two rejections threaten to reignite the battle over presidential nominations. "This is a war on the other two branches of government and their ability to do the jobs the American people need them to do," Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, said in a statement after the votes. "The Senate rules must change."

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul also has said he will put a hold on the nomination of Janet Yellen for Federal Reserve chairman until he gets assurance that there will be a vote on legislation requiring a public audit of the central bank, including decision-making on monetary policy.

Graham said he had planned to vote for Johnson, but this was his only recourse.

Graham's news conference came as a new poll showed the senator's support plunging among Republican voters in South Carolina. Benghazi is an issue that energizes core Republicans.

The Winthrop Poll showed Graham with the backing of 45 percent of Republican voters in October, down from 72 percent in February. The poll conducted Oct. 19-27 interviewed 887 adults and had a margin of error of 3 percent.

Graham, who is seeking a third term next year, faces primary challenges from three candidates: Nancy Mace, the first female graduate of the Citadel; state Sen. Lee Bright; and businessman Richard Cash. They have criticized the incumbent for working with Democrats on immigration and other issues.

If no candidate gets 50 percent plus one of the vote in the June 10 primary, the top two finishers compete in a June 24 runoff.


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