SC Sen. Lindsey Graham threatens to block CIA nominee

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 8, 2013 

— Sen. Lindsey Graham threatened on Tuesday to block Senate consideration of President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the CIA in retaliation for the Obama administration’s failure to provide more details about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The South Carolina Republican’s threat to place a hold on the nomination of John Brennan as CIA director raises doubts about a second senior national security leadership pick by Obama, with several senators already questioning former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s qualifications to be defense secretary.

Graham, a Senate Armed Services Committee member who served as a military lawyer in Iraq and Afghanistan, also voiced concerns about Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska who was nominated Monday. But Graham indicated likely support for Obama’s pick of Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, to be secretary of state.

Criticism surrounding the Benghazi assault, which killed four Americans, contributed to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s decision last month to withdraw her name for consideration as secretary of state. Graham had led the chorus of criticism, along with fellow Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

Antagonism to Rice

Graham brought up Rice again Tuesday in explaining why he is considering a block of Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA.

“I have not forgotten about the Benghazi debacle and still have many questions about what transpired before, during and after the attack on our consulate,” Graham said in a statement.

“In that regard, I do not believe we should confirm anyone as director of the CIA until our questions are answered – like who changed Ambassador Susan Rice’s talking points and who deleted the references to al Qaida?” Graham said. “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.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday criticized Graham for threatening to delay 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,” Carney told reporters. “As the president said yesterday, that post, as well as the position of secretary of defense, secretary of state – these are essential positions that need to be filled, if possible, without delay.”

Obama chose Brennan, who has held several senior counterterrorism posts under Obama and President George W. Bush, to replace David Petraeus after the retired general resigned after acknowledging an extramarital affair.

On Hagel and Kerry

Appearing on a radio show in South Carolina, Graham contrasted his opposition to Hagel with his likely support for Kerry.

“Chuck Hagel’s positions on Iran and Israel are dangerously out of the mainstream,” Graham said. “He was one of 12 senators who refused to sign a letter to the European Union asking that Hezbollah be designated a terrorist organization. He asked that Israel negotiate directly with Hamas. And he was one of two senators who voted against sanctions against Iran.”

By contrast, Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, “has been Foreign Relations (Committee) chairman for years; he’s pretty good on Syria; he’s certainly qualified; his views are in the mainstream,” Graham said.

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