The Senate intelligence committee delayed a vote on John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA by at least a week after the Obama administration provided internal communications demanded by Republicans about last year’s deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Richard Burr of North Carolina said they still haven’t received all the information they want from the Obama administration. They were among senators on the intelligence panel who viewed e-mails yesterday between administration officials who shaped disputed “talking points” in the days after the Sept. 11 assault.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the intelligence panel’s chairman, said in an interview after reviewing the e-mails that she will postpone a vote on Brennan until at least March 7. She said it wasn’t unusual to delay a vote on a nomination as significant as President Barack Obama’s choice of Brennan as Central Intelligence Agency director.
Republicans have criticized the administration for months for providing an initial, erroneous account to the public that indicated the Benghazi attack grew out of a “spontaneous” demonstration. They also have questioned security at the mission before the attack and whether more could have been done by the military to respond as it happened.
“We’ve got a lot more documents and requests to be fulfilled,” Burr told reporters after the closed-door session at the Capitol. “There’s a tremendous amount more documents that deal with the days leading up to and the days preceding Benghazi.”
Collins said she believes “there are still gaps in the information” that lawmakers have been provided about the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The Obama administration granted senators on the Intelligence Committee access to the e-mails in part to help smooth the confirmation of Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser.
The e-mails show that Brennan “was involved” as part of a group of administration officials who helped shape the government’s message about the attack, Senator Saxby Chambliss said after reviewing them. He didn’t elaborate.
“The talking points were obviously changed,” said Chambliss, a Georgia Republican. “There was a collaborative process that was extensive, bureaucratic and frankly unnecessary.”
White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Brennan suggested “two minor edits that were stylistic” for the talking points.
“He simply re-ordered two sentences and took out the words ‘from across many sectors of Libyan society’ from one sentence,” Hayden said in an e-mail. “Neither edit made its way into the CIA’s final product, which was then used by the State Department and with Congress.”
Feinstein downplayed Brennan’s role, saying he was responsible for “one small change” and that she didn’t believe it was significant.
“I am very satisfied that we have adequate information from an intelligence point of view on Benghazi,” she said.
If administration officials can win support for Brennan from Republicans by releasing information on the Benghazi attack, they may be able to continue resisting demands from some Democrats for more information on the use of drones to kill suspected terrorists abroad.
Democrats led by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon have been pushing to see more of the classified Justice Department legal opinions underpinning the administration’s use of the armed, pilotless aircraft before a vote is held on Brennan’s nomination.
“To do vigilant oversight, the committee must have those legal opinions before the vote,” Wyden told reporters yesterday. “This is not about pre-decisional information or the information that goes to how the president made the decision. This is actually the interpretation of the law and whether the interpretation of the law is in effect going to be kept secret.”