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Graham’s hold presses White House on Benghazi

CIA, Pentagon picks tied to more disclosure

Still searching for the full truth behind the Sept. 11 Benghazi, Libya, terrorism attacks, Sen. Lindsey Graham said Sunday he will block two key Obama administration appointments until he gets answers.

During an interview Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation," Mr. Graham, South Carolina Republican, said he intends to place a "hold" -- a parliamentary maneuver in the Senate that temporarily prevents a floor vote -- on the nominations of John O. Brennan, tapped to be director of the CIA, and former Sen. Chuck Hagel, the president's pick to lead the Defense Department.

He promised that there will be "no confirmation without information," using the two appointments as leverage in his ongoing effort to receive a full, satisfactory explanation of the Benghazi attacks that led to the death of four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

(SEE RELATED: Obama punted to Panetta for U.S. response to Benghazi attack)

"I don't think we should allow Brennan to go forward for the CIA directorship, Hagel to be confirmed for secretary of defense until the White House gives us an accounting" of what really happened on that day, Mr. Graham said. "I'm going to get to the bottom of it."

His words come at a time that Mr. Obama and his national security team continue to take fire from congressional Republicans and other critics.

Mr. Hagel was widely criticized for his recent Senate testimony, and Republicans have taken serious issue with his support of steep Defense Department budget cuts and what some view as soft positions on Iran, among other concerns.

Over the weekend, former Vice President Dick Cheney said that Mr. Obama has jeopardized national security with the Hagel pick and other selections.

"The performance now of Barack Obama as he staffs up the national security team for the second term is dismal," Mr. Cheney said, speaking to about 300 members of the Wyoming Republican Party.

"Frankly, what he has appointed are second-rate people," he added.

(SEE RELATED: White House previously denied handing Benghazi response off to Panetta)

As for the specifics of Benghazi, Mr. Graham said he wants to know whether the president called Libyan authorities while the Benghazi attacks were taking place. A six-person rescue team had flown to Benghazi from Tripoli to defend the U.S. Consulate, but it was detained at the airport by Libyan officials.

If they hadn't been held up, Mr. Graham said, at least two Americans could have been spared.

"Did the president ever pick up the phone and call the Libyan government [and say to] let those people out of the airport?" Mr. Graham asked. "Did the president at any time during this eight-hour attack pick up the phone and call anyone in Libya to get help for these folks? There's no voice in the world like the president of the United States."

During testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said that he informed Mr. Obama about the attacks, but that they did not speak for the rest of the night as the deadly assault continued. The president did not ask how long it would take to deploy assets to the area, nor did he ask what assets were already in the area, according to Mr. Panetta's testimony.

He also said Mr. Obama deferred to him and to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey.

A hold is a debate technique, signaling Mr. Graham intends to slow the nomination. Unless he relents, Democrats will likely have to muster 60 votes in order to cut off debate and move to a final up-or-down vote on the nominees.

Democrats wasted no time in pouncing on Mr. Graham's vow to hold up important White House nominations.

"This is unprecedented, unwarranted to stop or attempt to stop the nominations of the secretary of defense and the CIA director. The men and women of the Department of Defense need a secretary of defense," said Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, also appearing on "Face the Nation" on Sunday morning.

"The idea that the president was not engaged [as the Benghazi attacks unfolded] is, I think, completely wrong," he added.

While he plans to halt the confirmations of Mr. Brennan and Mr. Hagel, Mr. Graham said he will not lead a filibuster against them. Other Republicans harbor deep reservations about Mr. Hagel, but also oppose a filibuster.

During an appearance on "Fox News Sunday," Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said he still has "grave concerns" about Mr. Hagel and that, at this point, he's leaning toward voting "no" on his nomination.

"I will see the rest of the answers to his questions, but certainly I have very grave concerns," he said.

Those concerns, however, are not enough for Mr. McCain to take part in a filibuster, arguing that the president's picks deserve a fair up-or-down vote in the Senate.

"We have never filibustered a presidential Cabinet appointee, and I don't think we should start here, he said. "Elections have consequences, unfortunately."

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, predicted that Mr. Hagel ultimately will be confirmed.

"Republican senators have told me privately they are not going to initiate the first filibuster in history on a secretary of defense nominee," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

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