WASHINGTON (AP) — A powerful Republican senator is determined to get more answers about the deadly Sept. 11 attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and says he will hold up Senate confirmation of President Barack Obama's nominees to head the Defense Department and the CIA until he gets that information.
Sen. Lindsey Graham has accused the White House of "stonewalling" requests to release more information about the attack that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya. "We're going to get to the bottom of Benghazi," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday.
The Senate must confirm the president's choices for the cabinet and other high-level posts, but rejections are rare.
The White House has urged quick approval of the president's second-term national security team and scolded any lawmakers trying to "play politics" with critical nominations.
A Democratic colleague branded Graham's threat to stall the nominations as "unprecedented and unwarranted." Senators should have the chance to vote on whether former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, will be defense secretary and whether John Brennan, Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, will be CIA director, said Democratic Sen. Jack Reed.
The White House did not address Graham's demand for more information, but did note that outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified Thursday before Congress about the chaotic day of the Sept. 11 attack.
In January, Graham had signaled he would delay Brennan's pick and told Fox News he would "absolutely" block Hagel unless Panetta and Dempsey testified about the Benghazi attack. The senator said he was "happy as a clam" when he learned the hearing with Panetta and Dempsey had been scheduled.
Republicans have accused the Obama administration of an election-year cover-up of the attack and at the hearing several suggested the commander in chief was disengaged as Americans died.
Graham contended that a six-person rescue team was delayed from leaving the Benghazi airport because of problems "with the militias releasing them and a lot of bureaucratic snafus," and he said he wants to know whether Obama called any Libyan officials to expedite their mission.
"I don't think we should allow Brennan to go forward for the CIA directorship, Hagel to be confirmed to secretary of defense until the White House gives us an accounting," Graham said, adding: "What did he do that night? That's not unfair. The families need to know, the American people need to know."
Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the White House's National Security Council, said: "We believe the Senate should act swiftly to confirm John Brennan and Sen. Hagel. These are critical national security positions and individual members shouldn't play politics with their nominations."
Reed said that "to dwell on a tragic incident and use that to block people is not appropriate. To try to find information, to ask legitimate questions, as Senator Graham is doing is completely appropriate. But then to turn around and say, 'I'm going to disrupt, essentially, the nomination of two key members of the President's Cabinet,' I don't think that's appropriate, I don't think it's warranted, I think it is an overreaction that is not going to serve the best interest, going forward, of the national security of the United States."
At the Senate hearing, Panetta testified that he and Dempsey were meeting with Obama when they first learned of the Libya assault. He said the president told them to deploy forces as quickly as possible. Graham asked whether Panetta spoke again to Obama after that first meeting. Panetta said no, but that the White House was in touch with military officials and aware of what was happening. At one point, Graham asked Panetta if he knew what time Obama went to sleep that night. The Pentagon chief said he did not.