WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s choice of John Brennan to be the next CIA director hit a snag Tuesday as a Republican senator threatened to delay the nomination until the Obama administration provides answers on the deadly assault in Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, whose opposition helped scuttle U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s hopes of becoming secretary of state, said the Senate should not confirm any Obama nominee for the nation’s top spy post until the administration elaborates on the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
“My support for a delay in confirmation is not directed at Mr. Brennan, but is an unfortunate, yet necessary, action to get information from this administration,” the South Carolina senator said in a statement. “I have tried — repeatedly — to get information on Benghazi, but my requests have been repeatedly ignored.”
He added that the administration’s “stonewalling on Benghazi” must end.
Graham did not explicitly say he would put a “hold” on Brennan’s nomination, and his office declined further comment. However, his statement signaled that he would try to slow the nomination.
The White House dismissed the politicization of the issue and pressed for the Senate to act quickly and deliberately on Brennan’s nomination.
“It would be unfortunate, I think, if in pursuit of this issue, which was highly politicized, the Senate would hold up the nomination of John Brennan to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
An independent review board released an exhaustive report last month that found “systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” of the State Department that led to inadequate security at the mission in Benghazi.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is likely to deliver her long-awaited testimony on Libya before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 22, although the State Department says the date hasn’t been finalized.
Illness and a concussion delayed her congressional appearance in December, one of her last acts as secretary of state. Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to replace Clinton after Rice withdrew her name from consideration.
In the weeks after the Sept. 11 attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, Republicans criticized the administration for blaming spontaneous protests over an American-made, anti-Muslim video. They suggested the administration was trying to play down an act of terrorism leading up to the November election, even though Obama used that description in the days after the raid.
Graham and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., directed much of their ire at Rice, who said in a series of Sunday talk show interviews on Sept. 16 that the attack may have been a protest that got out of hand. Rice’s widely debunked explanation was based on talking points from the intelligence community.
Graham said he wants answers on who changed Rice’s talking points and deleted references to al-Qaida. He said lawmakers were told that the director of national intelligence deleted the references, then were told it was the FBI. Hours after a meeting with Rice in late November, Congress was informed that the CIA had changed the talking points.
“This ever-changing story should be resolved,” Graham said. “It is imperative we understand who changed the talking points just weeks before a presidential election and why.”
Graham, who is up for re-election next year, has been an outspoken critic of the administration on Libya.
Carney pointed out that Obama pressed for swift confirmation of his national security nominees when he announced the selections Monday, and the administration hopes there are no unnecessary delays. He noted that the FBI is continuing its investigation of the attack, the independent review board issued a scathing report and Obama wants to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice.
“The president is focused on those issues, not what seems to be the continued political fascination with appearances on Sunday shows,” Carney said.
Brennan was expected to have an easier time on the path to Senate confirmation than Chuck Hagel, Obama’s choice to run the Pentagon. A handful of Republicans have announced opposition to their former GOP colleague, and several skeptical Democrats reserved judgment until Hagel explains his views on Israel and Iran.
The concerns about Hagel complicate his path to Senate confirmation but are not necessarily calamitous as the White House pushes for the first Vietnam War veteran and enlisted Army man to oversee a military emerging from two wars and staring at deep budget cuts.
Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran, is expected to be hit with questions about torture and administration leaks of secret information at his hearing, but is widely expected to win Senate confirmation. Graham’s demands on the Libya raid could stall the nomination.
Hagel has upset some Israel backers with his comment about the “Jewish lobby,” his votes against unilateral sanctions against Iran while backing international penalties on the regime in Tehran and his criticism of talk of a military strike by either the U.S. or Israel against Iran.
He also upset gay rights groups over past comments, including his opposition in 1998 to President Bill Clinton’s choice of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg. He referred to Hormel as “openly, aggressively gay.” Hagel recently apologized, saying his comments were “insensitive.”
Those remarks and actions have created fierce opposition from some pro-Israel groups, criticism from some Republicans and unease among some congressional Democrats.
In an interview with the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star, Hagel said his statements have been distorted and there is “not one shred of evidence that I’m anti-Israeli, not one (Senate) vote that matters that hurt Israel.”
During a trip to the Mideast, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., sought to reassure Israelis concerned about Hagel’s nomination. Nelson, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said Hagel has a record of support for Israel.
Nelson said he discussed Hagel’s nomination with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He said the prime minister did not voice objections to Hagel.
Former Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., himself a wounded Vietnam veteran, said he thinks Hagel “has to clarify” his positions on issues like Iran and Israel.
But Cleland also said in an interview on “CBS This Morning” Tuesday that Hagel is battle-tested and ready for the challenges of a confirmation process, accusing the Nebraskan’s critics of “swatting at nothing, shadow-boxing.”
Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Darlene Superville, Lolita C. Baldor, Lara Jakes and Connie Cass contributed to this report.