Hearings To Begin On Benghazi Consulate Attack

Both House and Senate committees hold closed-door hearings Thursday to question administration officials about the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans. Some leading Republicans say only a dedicated Watergate-style committee can get to the bottom what happened.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

An issue Republicans made much of during the election is center stage on Capitol Hill today. Separate committees are investigating the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

INSKEEP: Among those testifying will be General David Petraeus, who quit last week as CIA chief after the FBI uncovered his involvement in an extramarital affair. Petraeus will appear tomorrow before the House Intelligence Committee - behind closed doors, according to a committee spokesperson.

WERTHEIMER: Some leading Republicans say only a dedicated Watergate-style hearing can get to the bottom what happened. We'll hear in a moment from a former U.S. ambassador to the Middle East about what he thinks is important about the events in Benghazi. First, NPR's David Welna brings us the story from Capitol Hill.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Only one of the three hearings on Benghazi being held today is open to the public. Both the House and Senate intelligence committees are holding hearings behind closed doors. Lawmakers say David Petraeus is willing to testify at the closed hearings, but only about what happened in Benghazi. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says this is all taking the wrong approach.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: A segmented, stovepipe investigation where you have three different committees going off in three different directions, not comparing notes, not being able to do this in an organized fashion, is going to lead to failure.

WELNA: Yesterday on the Senate floor, the man who lost to President Obama four years ago offered a resolution creating a select committee that would focus exclusively on the Benghazi attacks. Arizona Republican John McCain said he wanted everyone involved to be probed by such a panel, all the way up to and including President Obama.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: The president of the United States did not tell the American people the truth about the attacks that took four brave Americans' lives that went on for eight, seven hours, for which we were totally unprepared.

WELNA: Asked whether he'd support the creation of a select committee, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had a one-word answer: No. Dick Durbin, the Senate's number two Democrat, said for some Benghazi is still a political issue.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN: There was an effort to make it the centerpiece of the Republican campaign, and it didn't fly. The American people know this president would never let anyone like our ambassador and American personnel be in danger if he could help it.

WELNA: Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., has become a main focus of those wanting to probe the Benghazi attacks. Republicans fault her for going on Sunday morning TV talk shows five days after the attacks and blaming them on spontaneous demonstrations against an anti-Muslim video. Rice is being mentioned as a likely candidate to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. South Carolina's Graham says he does not trust Rice.

GRAHAM: There are a lot of qualified people in this country the president could pick, but I am dead set on making sure we don't promote anybody that was an essential player in the Benghazi debacle.

WELNA: And John McCain threatened to filibuster such a nomination.

MCCAIN: We will do whatever's necessary to block the nomination that's within our power as far as Susan Rice is concerned.

WELNA: At his White House news conference yesterday, President Obama vowed to provide every bit of information his administration has about the Benghazi attacks. But he said if Senators McCain and Graham want to go after somebody, they should go after him.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: But when they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she's an easy target, then they've got a problem with me.

WELNA: The president said Ambassador Rice had simply made a presentation based on intelligence she'd received. To besmirch her reputation, he added, is outrageous.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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