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Chaffetz backs Graham's bid to block Obama nominees over Benghazi

Published October 30, 2013 5:05 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • A Republican senator plans to block all President Barack Obama's nominees until the administration allows Congress to interview survivors of the 2012 terrorist attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya — a move backed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, the lead House investigator of the incident that killed a U.S. ambassador and three others.

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., said the Obama administration's resistance to allowing the survivors — including State Department and CIA employees — to testify about the attack was a "dangerous" precedent for the country and that the "stonewalling, delaying and the deception are going to come to an end."

Graham said he would put a hold on Obama's nominee to head the Federal Reserve and others "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."

Chaffetz, who heads the Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee over foreign operations and visited Libya days after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, said Americans should be furious not to have the full story of what happened when al Qaeda-affiliated operatives hit the consulate. The congressman said if the Boston Marathon bombers had gone this long without being caught, Americans would be livid.

"We seek truth, justice and accountability," Chaffetz said at a news conference with Graham and Sens. John McCain and Kelly Ayotte. "Every single step of the way this administration has put roadblocks on everything we seek to find."

The Obama administration initially blamed an anti-Muslim video for inciting a spontaneous attack on the consulate but later reports have shown that it was a coordinated and well-armed bombardment of the consulate that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three security officials dead.

"People don't bring mortars and RPGs to spontaneous demonstrations," McCain said Wednesday.

State Department officials have testified before the House Oversight Committee on the Benghazi attack, though Republicans say that the administration won't allow actual witnesses to the incident to testify because it's an ongoing investigation.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says that the administration has made "extraordinary efforts" to work with seven different congressional committees on the Benghazi attacks, and that includes officials testifying at 13 hearings, 40 staff briefings and over 25,000 pages of documents.

"The State Department has worked in good faith to meet the Hill's many requests and they will continue to review legitimate incoming requests," Carney said this week. "But let's be clear that some Republicans are choosing to play politics with this for partisan purposes, and we find that unfortunate."

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that questions about Benghazi have been "looked into ad nauseam for months and months" by independent officials and boards.

"The suggestion that holding up key positions that would help advance our interests around the world, help provide decision-making on securing posts and providing better cooperation and coordination, is absolutely the wrong tactic to take," Psaki said. "Those are individuals, dozens of them, who we're still waiting to have confirmed who are not in place. And I think we've been clear that that is something that hurts our efforts to move forward."

Psaki noted that the department made available to the Oversight Committee a diplomatic security official who was in Benghazi during the incident after the panel subpoenaed him "despite hearing serious concerns about the risk of such a deposition to the ongoing law enforcement efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice."

Graham — who can temporarily hold up any nominees as a senator — says the argument that Congress' involvement could hurt the criminal investigation is bunk.

If that were the case, he said, "Congress could have been shut out of investigating 9-11 itself."

The senator added that then-Sen. Obama wouldn't have put up with President George W. Bush's administration saying Congress couldn't investigate the Abu Ghraib prison abuses.

"Why can't we talk to the people who were attacked," Graham said. "If that's too much for Congress to ask, God help us all."

tburr@sltrib.com