WASHINGTON — The Obama administration faces a Senate hold on all of its upcoming nominees — including Fed chair nominee Janet Yellen and President Obama’s pick for Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson — unless it makes Benghazi survivors available to be interviewed by appropriate committees in Congress.
A coalition of longtime advocates of a full Benghazi investigation is also demanding to see the FBI transcripts from the interviews conducted with the survivors some 48 hours after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack when they were flown to Germany.
The lack of independent access for congressional oversight nearly 14 months after the attack on the diplomatic facility is setting a chilling precedent, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said at a press conference with allies on the Hill Wednesday afternoon.
“I don’t know how our country can function in the future if that becomes the norm,” he said.
Graham noted that the FBI is saying that they can’t share the content of the interviews because the inquiry is a criminal investigation. “Using that theory, Congress should have been shut out of investigating 9/11 itself,” he said. “That is a stunning statement and should be rejected as a proper answer to a legitimate question in a bipartisan fashion.”
“We cannot allow the FBI or this administration to deny the Congress vital information to investigate Benghazi… To have accountability, you have to have information.”
The State Department’s internal review, the Accountability Review Board, did have access to the survivors, but didn’t bother to interview Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to arrive at its findings.
“What the administration is doing is dangerous for representative democracy,” Graham said, adding that he will hold the nominees “not because I want to shut anything down, but because I want to open something up — I want to open up the truth about Benghazi.”
Graham was joined by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), as well as three House Oversight and Government Reform Committee members who have been leading the charge for a Benghazi investigation in the lower chamber: Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
The hold on nominations doesn’t include Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), Obama’s pick for head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, as cloture has already been filed on that nomination.
Ayotte said she’s spoken with new FBI Director James Comey and has hope that he’s a “very good man who wants to get to the bottom of this.”
Still, she decried the teeth-pulling that concerned senators have had to attempt in order to get answers about that night.
Coupled with the seeming lack of concern about catching the Benghazi attackers, “it really makes you wonder what is going on here.”
Chaffetz noted how right after the presidential election Obama said in interviews that he would be transparent with new information about Benghazi as it came in. “That has never happened, never,” he said. “At every single step of the way this administration has put up roadblocks.”
He also dismissed the administration’s assertion that it has turned over all relevant documents to Congress, noting that just two weeks ago at the Oversight Committee they received a new document dump.
They’ve also not received help from the Defense Department in trying to obtain an after-action report on Benghazi. “They claim there are none, and if there are some they refuse to give them to us,” Chaffetz said.
“You cannot look at this issue without remembering it is in the context of a presidential campaign,” McCain stressed, referencing the second presidential debate where the “so-called moderator” handed Obama a save by claiming he’d called Benghazi a terrorist attack in a Rose Garden speech. “The American people were deceived throughout the presidential campaign about the realities and they’re still being deceived about it.”
And the “presumed nominee for 2016,” McCain said in reference to Clinton, “said ‘Who cares?'”
The answer, he said, is a bipartisan, bicameral special committee with subpoena power tasked with investigating Benghazi. “I’m afraid that may be the only way that we get justice and knowledge to the American people.”
Jordan noted that “60 Minutes has talked to more people on the ground in Benghazi than I have … give us a chance to do that.”
“Look, we’re gonna put a hold on things until we get access to that information,” he said.
Gowdy directed a flurry of questions at the media assembled in the press room, including, “Can you tell me why Chris Stevens was in Benghazi the night he was killed? Why we were the last flag flying in Benghazi?… Do you know the answer to why no assets were deployed during the siege? Do you know whether the president called any of our allies and said, ‘Can you help? We’re under attack’?
Why was Susan Rice on the five Sunday talk shows?”
“I am not surprised that the president of the United States called this a phony scandal… I’m just surprised at how many people bought it,” Gowdy angrily concluded.
Graham said they’re going ahead with the nomination blocks because “it’s the only leverage we have.”
Even Janet Napolitano replacement Johnson, a nominee in Graham’s favor. “I’m gonna vote for him eventually because he’s a really well-qualified guy, but I don’t know what to do but this,” he said.
“We’re trying to find out how our ambassador was murdered; this was a national security failure,” Graham added.
“I just want the committees of appropriate jurisdiction to have a chance… it’s called oversight.”