Sen. Graham Holds Up Confirmations Over Benghazi Attack

South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham is often criticized by Tea Party oriented Republicans on issues like immigration. There is, however, one topic that is endearing him to conservatives: Benghazi. Graham has vowed to block administration nominations in the Senate until Congress is allowed to interview survivors from last year's attack on the U.S. mission in Libya by armed militants.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Two of President Obama's most important nominations of his second term made some progress this week. Federal Reserve chair nominee Janet Yellin went before a Senate panel yesterday, and Jeh Johnson, nominated to head the Department of Homeland Security, was vetted on Wednesday. Their confirmation is expected by the full Senate, but that could take time.

Because South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has placed holds on them and dozens more nominees. A single senator is commonly allowed to prevent a vote on nominations. As NPR's David Welna reports, it's nothing personal - Graham's complaint concerns Benghazi.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Graham says his holds will continue until the Obama Administration meets his demands. He wants to interview five State Department employees who witnessed the attacks in Benghazi, Libya last year that killed four other Americans, including the U.S. ambassador.

He also wants to learn what they told the FBI days after the attack to see if they really did believe it was just a protest underway there, as administration officials said at the time, or if, in fact, they saw it as a planned attack.

(SOUNDBITE OF STATEMENT)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: This is a last resort by me. I can't think of anything else to do. I'm not going to allow the case of Benghazi to be closed until there's some independent oversight of the administration. And how can you tell the families you know what happened in Benghazi if you can't talk to the survivors?

WELNA: Late last month the State Department informed Graham that letting those witnesses testify could harm a criminal prosecution of the case and put them in danger. The South Carolina Republican responded by announcing his new pressure tactic at a Capitol Hill news conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

GRAHAM: So I'm going to block future nominations coming from the administration, not because I want to shut anything down; it's because I want to open something up.

WELNA: That something, he added, was the truth about Benghazi. He cited a report that had aired three days earlier on CBS's "60 Minutes."

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

GRAHAM: You got "60 Minutes" now validating it not was just a terrorist attack, they knew who planned it and it was a long time coming.

WELNA: That "60 Minutes" report featured an on-camera conversation between reporter Lara Logan and a British State Department contractor she identified only by a pseudonym, Morgan Jones. He claimed to have fought off attackers at the Benghazi diplomatic post where Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

LARA LOGAN: Morgan Jones scaled the 12 foot high wall of the compound, that was still overrun with al-Qaida fighters.

MORGAN JONES: One guy saw me. He just shouted. I couldn't believe that he'd seen me because it was so dark. He started walking towards me.

LOGAN: And as he was coming closer...

JONES: As I got closer, I just hit him with the butt of a rifle in the face.

WELNA: But CBS retracted the entire report last weekend after other news organizations reported that Dylan Davies - the contractor's real name - told the FBI he was not at the compound the night of the attack. Graham says that shows why Congress also needs to review the FBI's files.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

GRAHAM: You can't have it both ways. You can't use these files to impeach your critic, and keep Congress from looking in the files to verify whether or not there was a protest. Can't have it both ways.

WELNA: Graham is seeking reelection next year, and he's taken heat from conservatives for supporting the Senate's immigration bill. GOP political consultant Chip Felkel says Graham should expect a Republican primary.

CHIP FELKEL: I think he's got a race. I think he knows that. You've got four challengers, another one came out this past week. The question is whether or not any of those can build - make a credible case for replacing Graham.

WELNA: Felkel says Graham's focus on Benghazi plays well in South Carolina. Allen Olson is a conservative in Columbia, the state capital.

ALLEN OLSON: I'm all for it. We need answers on Benghazi.

WELNA: Answers Graham promises he'll get. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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