WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham threatened Monday to hold up all nominations for federal government positions until survivors of last year’s deadly attack on the diplomatic post in Libya appear before Congress.
The State Department disclosed that it already had sent to Capitol Hill for a deposition an employee who was in Benghazi the night of the attack, and the White House said Republicans were playing politics with the issue.
Graham, a South Carolina Republican, started off the day’s back-and-forth with a tweet on his official Twitter account: “Where are the #Benghazi survivors? I’m going to block every appointment in the US Senate until they are made available to Congress.”
Prominent nominations announced by President Barack Obama and awaiting Senate confirmation include Janet Yellen for chair of the Federal Reserve and Jeh Johnson for secretary of the Homeland Security Department.
There have been a number of Capitol Hill hearings on the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. And there was a review chaired by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen. But Graham is among lawmakers dissatisfied with information they’ve received so far and he has threatened previous nominations over the issue.
Graham said he wants a joint select committee formed from several individual Senate committees to investigate.
“The State Department is blaming the CIA, the CIA is blaming the State Department. Where was the Department of Defense?” Graham said Monday on the news show “Fox & Friends.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration had already made “extraordinary efforts to work” with a number of congressional committees investigating what happened before, during and after the Benghazi attacks. “That includes testifying at 13 congressional hearings, participating in 40 staff briefings and providing over 25,000 pages of documents,” Carney said.
“Let’s be clear that some Republicans are choosing to play politics with this for partisan purposes, and we find that unfortunate,” Carney said, denying he was referring to Graham specifically and saying it has been the case among Republicans “in general.”
Graham and others have repeatedly called for a special select committee of Congress, but Republican and Democratic leaders have resisted.
Under the Constitution, the president nominates — but the Senate must approve — appointments including ambassadors, Supreme Court Justices and Cabinet members and military personnel being promoted to the rank of general officer.
Graham complained on Fox that 14 months after the attack, people who survived it “have not been made available to the U.S. Congress for oversight purposes.”
But Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the State Department, said the department last month sent to the House Oversight Committee a diplomatic security official “who was present in Benghazi the night of the attack.” It was the first official confirmation that such a deposition had been given.
She said the committee had issued a subpoena despite warnings that the legal deposition could threaten ongoing law enforcement efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice. A security official based in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, the night of the attack also was made available, she said, adding that more than a dozen State Department officials have testified in all on the issue.
The State Department has rejected allegations that it has forbidden any of its employees from appearing before Congress. It has noted that the Benghazi survivors also have spoken to investigators and that those reports have been made available to lawmakers.
A blistering report released in December by Pickering, Mullen and three other reviewers found that systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels of the State Department meant security was inadequate for Benghazi and “grossly inadequate” to deal with the attack, in which militants stormed the diplomatic post and set it on fire.
Benghazi stands as cause celebre for conservative Republicans who insist the administration was trying to mislead the American people during the heat of a presidential campaign, playing down a terrorist attack on Obama’s watch.
In February, Graham and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., led Republicans in blocking the Senate vote on Obama’s nomination of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel to serve as defense secretary, demanding information about the president’s actions in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack.
The administration responded to the requests, and the Senate later confirmed Hagel.
Later that month, Republicans also threatened to hold up the nomination of CIA Director John Brennan, insisting on documents related to Benghazi. The administration provided emails and other documents to Congress.
Graham, who has drawn criticism in some Republican quarters for working with Democrats on other issues like immigration, has been highly critical of the administration on Benghazi. The two-term senator faces several Republican rivals in the GOP primary as he fights for re-election in South Carolina.