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Lindsey Graham Labors to Keep Benghazi Alive, Get Answers

And wins U.S. access to a suspect being held in Tunisia. Does he really deserve conservatives' scorn?

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

November 2, 2012 - 3:09 pm

When mentioning Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to some conservatives, the first word you might hear is “Grahamnesty” — a term referencing his support for comprehensive immigration reform forged with late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).

He opposed ObamaCare, has an “A”-rating from the National Rifle Association, and has a lifetime rating of nearly 89 percent from the American Conservative Union. He’s backed away from past support for climate-change legislation. He even posed with his Chick-fil-A nuggets on the August appreciation day.

Even though Graham is readily labeled conservative by liberals, there’s been a chorus on the right wanting him out for not being conservative enough.

There’s a “Conservatives Against Lindsey Graham” Facebook group with more than 4,600 likes. In 2008, conservative Bob Conley went from being a member of the Horry County Republican Committee to jumping on the Democratic ticket just to run against Graham. Others have badgered the senator about longtime rumors regarding his sexuality, like William Gheen, head of the anti-illegal-immigration group Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, calling on Graham to “come forward and tell people about your alternative lifestyle and your homosexuality” at a 2012 Tea Party rally in South Carolina.

The Club for Growth has confirmed that Graham is in its crosshairs for 2014, citing in part his conference call with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) last month to show bipartisan support for continuing aid to Libya, Egypt, and Pakistan, as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has been trying to cut off assistance. “If you’re looking to the horizon of 2014,” said Chris Chocola, president of the group, at a September event, “the sun may rise over South Carolina.”

But for an issue currently so dear to grass-roots activists on the right — exposing the truth about the deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi — Graham has been a top champion of conservatives in holding the administration’s feet to the fire.

And it’s not the first time.

He’s been a leading voice against the White House in its leaks of classified intelligence. He’s crusading against devastating sequestration defense cuts that the Democrats are using as leverage to try to force tax hikes on upper-income brackets, and has been urging defense contractors to follow the WARN Act on sequestration layoff notices despite administration advice otherwise. He’s trying to get the Department of Defense to change the characterization of the Fort Hood shooting from “workplace violence” to terrorism. He’s been a leading hawk in the Senate against Iran’s nuclear program, advocating pre-emptive strikes against nuclear installations to “neuter” the mullahs in Tehran. He’s been trying to beat back National Labor Relations Board overreach.

Establishing a necessary paper trail of requests for information about the attack that are naturally going unheeded, Graham has demanded information about Benghazi from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director David Petraeus, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Attorney General Eric Holder, and President Obama himself.

“We destroyed a small forest trying to ask not political ‘gotcha’ questions, but basic questions: What did the president know, when did know it, and what did he do about it?” the senator said on Fox yesterday.

On Wednesday, Graham warned Tunisian authorities that the relationship with the U.S. could be at risk if they didn’t allow U.S. access to Ali Ani al Harzi, a suspect being held in the Sept. 11 consulate attack.

“I have visited your country on several occasions and through my role as the Ranking Member on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations, we have included multiple forms of assistance during the crucial new beginning of Tunisia,” Graham (R-S.C.) told Tunisia’s charge d’ affaires. “However, if these reports are true, our partnership could be in serious jeopardy.”

Graham encouraged the envoy to get the wheels of cooperation rolling between the Tunisian and Libyan governments, and U.S. intelligence services and law enforcement.

Two days later, the Tunisian government today granted American investigators in-person access to the suspect.

“It is unfortunate it has taken this long to get an in-person interview as time is of the essence in cases like this. We hope our interview of Ali Ani al Harzi will bear fruit and we can bring to justice those responsible for killing Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans,” said Graham and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who met with the FBI last week to press the case.

Basically, Graham stepped in to do the administration’s job to force a deal on an interrogation.

Graham also has more of a national ear than some lawmakers as a frequent guest on the Sunday network news shows and cable news.

Thus, he’s gotten the Benghazi story out on networks not exactly covering the story.

“There was no video inspiring the June attack. Benghazi was in the hands of al-Qaeda between April and September in larger measure,” Graham said late last month on MSNBC. “The reports coming out of Benghazi was that the security footprints deteriorating, the British left, the Red Cross left. They didn’t leave because of a video. They left because of insurgents and militia taking over Benghazi.”

He’s also been a frequent guest on Fox News to keep viewers apprised of the developments in the Benghazi probe.

“President Obama was AWOL when it comes to protecting our folks in Libya. This is a massive failure of national security by the Obama administration. It makes me sad. It makes me angry,” he said yesterday.

“Libya is exhibit A in the fact that al-Qaeda is regrouping, counter-attacking and the wars are not receding. And what happened in Libya was a failure of leadership by the president. He should have closed this consulate after the attacks in June or heavily reinforced it. It became a death trap, and the people were denied security assistance because we wanted to normalize relationship with a nonexistent government.”

And like the conservative grass-roots, the senator has also been using Twitter on a daily basis to keep the story alive.

“It’s wrong for President Obama to repeatedly refuse to answer even the most basic questions about the deaths of Americans killed in Benghazi,” Graham tweeted today. “Mr. President, you need to address the American people and account for your leadership in the attack on our Consulate in #Benghazi, Libya.”

Graham, along with longtime friends and allies Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), has been a stalwart watchdog against creeping isolationism in the GOP that he believes will make the country less safe and deny Reaganesqe aid and comfort to human beings fighting for democracy and freedom around the globe. And he demands attention be paid to a War on Terror that’s far from over.

The Benghazi scandal has made clearly evident who will round out that trio once Lieberman retires at the end of this term: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).

Bridget Johnson is a career journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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