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Senators use CIA vote for leverage to get 10 answers on Benghazi attack

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Three Republican senators issued a list of unanswered questions about the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, on Monday — the eve of a Senate committee vote on President Obama's nominee for CIA director.

Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire have said they would leverage the confirmation process for White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan's nomination to get answers about the attack, in which U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, State Department official Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed.

Among the 10 "Things we do not know," the senators listed Monday:

Was Mr. Obama made aware of a cable from Stevens in August that said the Benghazi compound could not survive a sustained attack?

Did the president's national security staff tell him about attacks on the Benghazi compound in April and June?

Why were U.S. military units in the region so ill-prepared to respond to an assault on the 11th anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attacks on the U.S.?

Why didn't the Obama administration do more to help the fledgling Libyan government after dictator Moammar Gadhafi was deposed and killed?

The senators noted that the secretary of state at the time, Hillary Rodham Clinton, was not aware of the Stevens cable and that military leaders believed early on that terrorists were behind the attack, in which dozens of heavily armed extremists stormed and torched the U.S. diplomatic post and assaulted a nearby CIA annex several hours later.

White House officials slammed the Republicans' opposition to Mr. Brennan's confirmation.

"John Brennan is extraordinarily qualified to head the CIA, and the President needs him in place now. We face enormous national security and intelligence challenges across the globe, and to hold up these nominees for unrelated reasons is not in our national security interests," White House spokeswoman Caitlin M. Hayden told The Washington Times in an email Monday.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is scheduled to vote Tuesday on Mr. Brennan's nomination to head the CIA. Mr. Graham, Mr. McCain and Mrs. Ayotte are not members of the committee.

In an appearance Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation," Mr. Graham said he and Mr. McCain, who appeared with him, "are hellbent on making sure the American people understand this debacle called Benghazi."

He said it is "a time-honored tradition in the U.S. Senate" to use a nomination as leverage to get questions answered.

"I'm not going to vote on a new CIA director until I find out what the CIA did in Benghazi," Mr. Graham said.

Mr. McCain added: "I've had questions, written questions, for Mr. Brennan for nearly three weeks now. We've not received a single answer."

A key question raised Monday by the senators is which officials or agency edited a set of unclassified "talking points" about the attack that U.S. intelligence analysts prepared several days after the assault.

Although U.S. intelligence concluded within hours that the attack likely was organized by members of a militia linked to al Qaeda, the talking points did not refer to it as a terrorist attack and the reference to an al Qaeda link was deleted.

A U.S. intelligence official told The Times last year that the al Qaeda link was removed from the talking points because it came from highly classified communications intercepts and that the FBI wanted the link deleted so as not to prejudice its investigation.

Last week, some committee members and staffers were briefed on the drafting of the talking points and saw email traffic between administration officials making edits on the document.

On Sunday, Mr. Graham said the email traffic was too heavily redacted to be useful. But a spokesman for the senator said Monday that Mr. Graham had no direct knowledge of what the committee reviewed.

"We aren't sure what the Intel Committee has received," Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop said via email.

A Senate staffer told The Times that the emails about the talking points were not redacted and answered committee members' questions about the drafting.

"There is a lot of confusion about the documents that have been made available," the staffer said, adding that the emails and other documents were provided to the committee as part of its probe into the Benghazi attack.

"We have now started to get what we asked for," the staffer said.

Ms. Hayden, the White House spokeswoman, said administration officials "are having conversations with members of Congress about their requests [for information on Benghazi] and we will continue those conversations."

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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