An influential U.S. senator says the Obama administration’s response to the Benghazi attack was so fraught with inaccuracies and misleading testimony in the weeks preceding the 2012 presidential election that it warrants a new and thorough investigation by a joint Senate committee.
Sen. Lindsey Graham says Mike Morell, at the time acting director of the CIA, provided misleading answers on multiple occasions about who changed the talking points used by National Security Adviser Susan Rice in Sunday talk shows five days after the attack.
Rice, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, blamed the attack on “extremists” who joined a spontaneous protest against a hateful anti-Islam video.
But it later became clear no protest ever occurred in Benghazi and that within hours of the attack, the top CIA official in Libya told Morell, who was the CIA’s deputy director at the time, that there was no protest and al-Qaeda terrorists were behind the attack.
“I believe we need a joint select committee â€“ armed services, intelligence and foreign relations â€“ looking at all the issues, like Iran-Contra and other major inquiries we’ve had in the past,” Graham told USA TODAY.
“The fact is not one person has lost their job for allowing security to deteriorate before the attack,” Graham said. “I’m still not satisfied we know exactly what happened during the attack and after.”
House intelligence committee chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., also said he may want Morell to testify and he wanted it done in open session for the public to hear. Morell released a statement through the CIA on Thursday insisting he misled no one.
“While not perfect, neither the talking points nor the analysis were produced with any political agenda in mind. None,” Morell’s statement said. “Both the analysis and the talking points represented the view of analysts at the time â€” a view that evolved in the days that followed as more information became available.”
The bipartisan report released in January by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was “by no means exhaustive,” Graham said, in part because it failed to clarify Morell’s role in altering Rice’s talking points.
The White House, State Department and the bipartisan report by the Senate intelligence committee blamed the inaccurate memo on confusing and contradictory intelligence and media reports in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
Graham said he has “tremendous problems” with the actions and testimony of Morell, who now works for Beacon Global Strategies, a Washington consulting firm whose founders have ties to former secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
On Nov. 15, 2012, Morell testified before the House and Senate intelligence committees together with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and two others. When Clapper testified he did not know who changed the talking points, Morell said nothing.
About two weeks later, Graham says, Morell accompanied Rice when she met with Graham and two other senators to address their concerns about her erroneous performance on the Sunday shows.
“I asked (Morell) early on who changed the talking points,” Graham said. “He told me he believed the FBI had changed the talking points to delete references to terrorist and al-Qaeda because they didn’t want to compromise an ongoing investigation.”
When Graham shared that account with the FBI, “they went ballistic,” Graham says. The CIA called later that day and said Morell misspoke, that it seemed someone at CIA changed the talking points “but they don’t know why,” Graham said.
Later, in May, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Morell oversaw the editing of the talking points. Graham says Morell testified he changed the talking points, but that there was no coordination with the White House.
Recently, Graham says, “we gained (from) e-mails that was not correct” â€” that in fact Morell did coordinate with the White House on the changes. The evidence shows the talking points and the administration’s entire response to Benghazi was motivated by political consideration, Graham said.
The attack “destroyed the narrative that terrorism was on the run,” which Obama was trumpeting during his re-election campaign, Graham said.
Graham painted the issue as bigger than one president or one election.
“From a congressional point of view, you can’t let the executive branch manufacture stories about an event in a way beneficial to them, particularly before an election.”