Media Reports On Sen. Graham's Benghazi Threats Ignore Key Details

CNN and Fox News repeatedly aired Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)'s threat to hold up presidential nominations unless witnesses to the 2012 Benghazi attacks are made available for questioning. The senator's implication -- that no witnesses have yet been questioned -- went unchallenged until CNN's Wolf Blitzer finally got Graham to admit that survivors of the attacks were in fact questioned by Congress earlier this month.

On October 28, Graham announced that he would block all executive branch nominees until survivors of the 2012 attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya have been questioned by Congress. Graham appeared on Fox's Fox & Friends Monday morning, claiming:

GRAHAM: Fourteen months later, the people who survived the attack in Benghazi have not been made available to the U.S. Congress for oversight purposes.

Fox News continued to amplify Graham's rhetoric on Greta van Susteren's On The Record. Van Susteren noted on the October 28 edition of her show that Graham is “threatening to hold up all nominations for federal government positions ... until survivors of the Benghazi attack appear before Congress.”

CNN briefly followed suit. The October 29 edition of CNN's New Day featured a report on Graham's threats from John King, who said that Graham “is saying, 'fine, you don't want to send them up to testify, I'm going to block almost every nomination if not every nomination going through the Senate.”

But when Graham appeared on CNN's The Situation Room later that day, host Wolf Blitzer finally asked Graham if he was aware of any Benghazi witnesses who had been questioned by Congress. Graham responded, “It's my understanding that the survivors, the State Department personnel who survived the consulate attack, one of that group has been interviewed by the House, and the CIA agents at the annex have not been interviewed by the Intelligence Committee of the House and the Senate.”

As Graham eventually acknowledged, witnesses to the Benghazi attacks have already been questioned by members of Congress -- but the content of their testimony is not being released publicly to avoid compromising ongoing investigations. The Los Angeles Times reported the morning of October 28 that two “key witnesses in last year's terrorist attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, were summoned to Capitol Hill this month and grilled for hours in separate legal depositions.” Agents Alec Henderson and John Martinec were questioned separately on October 8 and October 10, and The Times reports the reason for keeping the interviews secret was to not hinder the investigation and potential prosecution:

The interviews “would prematurely alert individuals who may be charged about details of the government's case against them,” and would give defense lawyers a golden opportunity to review the depositions and impeach the agents if they testified as prosecution witnesses, the Justice Department warned in one of the letters, according to sources.

“For over a year, department prosecutors and FBI agents have been investigating the attack and preparing for prosecution,” top Justice Department officials told Issa on Sept. 23, in the first of their letters. “They have made substantial progress despite the difficulties in obtaining evidence, locating witnesses, and other issues.... We believe that a successful prosecution here is vital to protecting our national security interests.” 

Furthermore, the interviews that Graham is pushing for could do irreparable harm to any effort to prosecute the perpetrators as well as jeopardize intelligence assets in the field. The same Los Angeles Times article reports on a similar dispute House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) had with the State Department over the questioning of witnesses. The principal deputy assistant attorney general warned that the interviews could risk the integrity of the investigation while also placing agents' safety in jeopardy:

Peter J. Kadzik, principal deputy assistant attorney general, responded three days later, asking Issa not to insist on the interviews. He said there were past incidents where defense attorneys used outside depositions to “exploit alleged discrepancies in witness statements.” He added, “The risk of inadvertent inconsistencies among multiple statements of witnesses is almost unavoidable,” and later warned that the interviews could harm the agents' safety, as well as that of “other potential witnesses.”

Survivors have also been interviewed by FBI investigators who are currently conducting an on-going criminal investigation into the assault. Transcripts of those interviews have reportedly been made available to the Senate Intelligence Committee (with some redactions).

For more on conservative media myths about the September 2012 attack, read The Benghazi Hoax, the new e-book by Media Matters' David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt.