WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's choice of John Brennan to be the next CIA director hit a snag Tuesday as a Republican senator threatened to delay the nomination until the Obama administration provides answers about the deadly assault in Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, whose opposition helped scuttle U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's hopes of becoming secretary of state, said the Senate should not confirm any Obama nominee for the nation's top spy post until the administration elaborates on the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
"My support for a delay in confirmation is not directed at Mr. Brennan, but is an unfortunate, yet necessary, action to get information from this administration," Mr. Graham said in a statement. "I have tried -- repeatedly -- to get information on Benghazi, but my requests have been repeatedly ignored." He added that the administration's "stonewalling on Benghazi" must end.
Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop late Tuesday said it's possible that the senator would put a "hold" on Mr. Brennan's nomination, but the lawmaker hopes that he doesn't have to take that step. In his statement, Mr. Graham signaled that he would try to slow the nomination.
The White House dismissed the politicization of the issue and pressed for the Senate to act quickly and deliberately on Mr. Brennan's nomination. "It would be unfortunate, I think, if in pursuit of this issue, which was highly politicized, the Senate would hold up the nomination of John Brennan to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
An independent review board released an exhaustive report last month that found "systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels" of the State Department that led to inadequate security at the mission in Benghazi.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is likely to deliver her long-awaited Libya testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the week of Jan. 21. Illness and a concussion delayed her congressional appearance in December, one of her last acts before stepping down from the State Department. Mr. Obama has nominated Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., to replace her after Ms. Rice withdrew from consideration.
In weeks after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, Republicans criticized the administration for blaming the mission assault on spontaneous protests over an American-made, anti-Muslim video. They suggested that the administration was trying to play down an act of terrorism in the lead-up to the November election, though Mr. Obama used that description in days after the raid.
Mr. Graham and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., directed much of their ire at Ms. Rice, who said in Sunday talk show interviews Sept. 16 that the attack may have been a protest that got out of hand. Her explanation, later widely debunked, was based on talking points from the intelligence community.
Mr. Graham said he wants answers on who changed Ms. Rice's talking points, deleting references to al-Qaida. He said lawmakers were told that the director of national intelligence deleted the references, then that it was done by the FBI. Hours after a meeting with Ms. Rice in late November, Congress was informed that the CIA had changed them. "This ever-changing story should be resolved," Mr. Graham said. "It is imperative we understand who changed the talking points just weeks before a presidential election and why."
Mr. Graham, up for re-election next year, has been an outspoken administration critic on Libya.
Mr. Carney pointed out that Mr. Obama pressed for swift confirmation of his national security nominees when he announced the selections Monday, and the administration hopes that there are no unnecessary delays. He noted that the FBI is continuing its Benghazi attack investigation, the independent review board issued a scathing report, and Mr. Obama wants to bring the assault perpetrators to justice. "The president is focused on those issues, not what seems to be the continued political fascination with appearances on Sunday shows," Mr. Carney said.
Mr. Brennan was expected to have an easier path to Senate confirmation than Republican former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, Mr. Obama's choice to run the Pentagon. A handful of Republicans have announced opposition to their former colleague, and several skeptical Democrats reserved judgment until he explains his Israel and Iran views.
Mr. Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran, is expected to be hit with questions about terror-detainee torture and purported administration leaks of classified information at his hearing, but has been widely expected to win Senate confirmation. But Mr. Graham's demands about the Libya raid could stall that nomination.