Saying he has "not forgotten about the Benghazi debacle," Sen. Lindsey Graham called for a delay in the confirmation process of John Brennan, the president's choice for CIA director, as investigations still continue surrounding the September 11, 2012 U.S. consulate attack in Libya.
"I do not believe we should confirm anyone as Director of the CIA until our questions are answered," Graham said in a statement.
The Republican senator from South Carolina has helped lead congressional efforts to address the deadly attack in Libya. He was one of several Republican senators who sharply questioned U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice and her role in the aftermath of the violence.
Days after the incident, Rice appeared on television news shows and described on the violence as a spontaneous attack spurred by outrage over an anti-Islam film. The intelligence community, however, later called it a terrorist attack.
Rice used unclassified talking points from the intelligence community in her television appearances, which apparently went through multiple drafts before landing in her hands. In briefings to Congress, intelligence officials said the initial draft was more specific in linking individuals to 'al Qaeda.' But when the document was sent to the rest of the intelligence community for review, there was a decision to change 'al Qaeda' to a broader term of 'extremists' for the final version.
While some members of Congress said the reason for changing the term was unclear, a senior U.S. official familiar with the drafting of the talking points said the change was made for legitimate intelligence and legal reasons, not for political purposes.
"First, the information about individuals linked to al Qaeda was derived from classified sources," the official said. "Second, when links were so tenuous -- as they still are -- it makes sense to be cautious before pointing fingers so you don't set off a chain of circular and self-reinforcing assumptions. Third, it is important to be careful not to prejudice a criminal investigation in its early stages.
When former CIA director David Petraeus testified, he also said the unclassified talking points did not make mention of extremist elements because it was still classified -- and could have compromised intelligence sources, according to several Democrats who were briefed.
While Rice withdrew her name last month from consideration for secretary of state, questions from Capitol Hill continue and Hillary Clinton, the nation's top diplomat, is expected to testify before she leaves her job as secretary of state.
She was scheduled to so in December but canceled after suffering a concussion. Clinton was later hospitalized with a blood clot but was discharged last week. She returned to work Monday.
As for Brennan, an intelligence committee staffer said the hearing is expected to be held late January or early February. The upper chamber is currently in recess until January 21.
Graham's communications director, Kevin Bishop, said the senator has "not placed a hold on the nomination yet" but added it was "a real possibility." He said Clinton's testimony is separate from the issue and reiterated Graham's call for a select committee to be set up to investigate the Benghazi incident.
The decision, Bishop said, is contingent upon Graham getting the information he has requested.
"Who changed Ambassador Susan Rice's talking points and deleted the references to Al-Qaeda?" he said, adding the various answers he has thus far received.
"This ever-changing story should be resolved. It is imperative we understand who changed the talking points just weeks before a presidential election and why. The stonewalling on Benghazi by the Obama Administration must come to an end," he said.
Graham, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, stressed that a delay is "not directed" at Brennan but that such a step may be "necessary action" to get more details from the administration about its handling of the aftermath.