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Mr. GRAHAM. I thank my colleague for the question. I finally got to interview a survivor about a month or so ago with Senators MENENDEZ and CORKER. I have only been able to interview one witness after all of these years and months.
If I could, I wish to thank the Intelligence Committee for doing a lot of hard work, but let's not lose sight that this is not just about the State Department. My focus is going to be comprehensive, and Senator McCain has called for a joint select committee, along with myself and Senator Ayotte, for over a year now. Why? You don't want to stovepipe this. The Intelligence Committee tells us in pretty good detail about the failures of the State Department, but here is my question: In the September 14 White House meeting where the Intelligence Committee prepared talking points for the White House that clearly established that this was a terrorist attack with Al Qaeda people involved--who changed those talking points in that White House meeting?
I have an email--which I hope will be here in a moment--from General Petraeus. Basically, somebody in that meeting or before the meeting is saying to General Petraeus that the White House wants to take references to Al Qaeda out and basically sanitize the talking points. He is upset, but he says: Well, go ahead and do what they want. Nobody admires General Petraeus more than I do, but, quite frankly, somebody needs to revisit that.
Where was the intelligence community for 2 weeks when the President of the United States--not Susan Rice--was telling the entire world: We think this was a protest caused by a video, when the intelligence community knew differently? To my friends in the intelligence community, you need to answer that question. What input did you give? Did anybody pick up a phone and call somebody at the White House? They need to tell the President to quit doing that because it is not accurate.
Another question: On September 15, 16, and 17 of September, all the survivors were interviewed by the FBI in Germany. I have talked to one survivor. I can tell you, in a quick summary, the man was brave and the people on the ground in the State Department deserve medals for going through what they did. But let me tell you this: He said there was no protest. There was not one report from Benghazi about a protest around the Embassy.
The Turkish Ambassador left not too long before the attack. Do you think he would have walked out in the middle of a protest? Do you think the Ambassador would have gone to bed if there was a protest? The people in charge of security never reported a protest because there was not one, and he said there wasn't one. He said: I saw on my screen--and he was in charge of security at the time--16 to 20 heavily armed people running through the gate and carrying a banner in Arabic. At the time, I didn't know what it said. I now know it was the banner of Ansar al-Sharia, the Al Qaeda affiliate.
And to my friends the New York Times, journalism has died at that paper. Do you really believe this wasn't a preplanned terrorist attack with Al Qaeda affiliates in charge? The gentleman said there were four gun trucks around the compound. It was a coordinated military attack, and they were lucky to have survived.
Who started this? Who planned this? The man's name was Qumu, the former Gitmo detainee. I can't say his last name, but I think it is Qumu. The man who started Ansar al-Sharia came from Gitmo. He was a former Gitmo detainee, a Libyan who went back to Libya and started this group. The ``60 Minutes'' report identified him and a Mr. Khattala as the organizers of this attack. All I can say is that there is no mystery about who planned this. It was an Al Qaeda affiliate in Libya.
On August 16 a cable was sent back from Chris Stevens to Washington at the State Department saying: We can't defend the consulate because 10 training camps of Al Qaeda exist in Benghazi; the Al Qaeda flag is flying.
By the way, the Red Cross had left Benghazi and the British had left Benghazi because of attacks by terrorist groups. This was long before September 11.
Don't tell me we don't know. We do know. It was terrorists. It was a former Gitmo detainee who was bin Laden's bodyguard. What did he have to do--have a card? The guy who was in Gitmo whom we let go was core Al Qaeda. He was bin Laden's bodyguard. They caught him in Pakistan. He fought in Afghanistan.
Now, what we don't know from this report is who in the White House changed the talking points.
You want to know what Chris Christie did? Fine. Absolutely fair game. We know what he did when he found out what his people did about the traffic jam. He fired them. He got up in front of the whole world and said: I am embarrassed. It is my fault. I am going to fire the people who did this bad thing.
Name one person who has been held accountable for this bad thing called Benghazi. Name one person at the State Department who has been fired for ignoring repeated requests for additional security on the consulate coming from people in Libya.
By the way, the Accountability Review Board--what did I learn in my interview with the survivor? I found out for the first time that villas B and C--the places that were attacked in Benghazi, the State Department consulate--had their lease renewed in July for an entire year for hundreds of thousands of dollars. I didn't know that. It was leased for well over half a million dollars. So you are going to tell me they were going to close the consulate in December? That was the conclusion of the Accountability Review Board. That is not accurate.
I will tell you what I think they were going to do. I think Hillary Clinton was going to go down in December and announce that the permanent facility would be open in Benghazi.
To Hillary Clinton's and Susan Rice's credit, these two women pushed the President to keep Benghazi from being overrun during the war with Qadhafi. They got involved, and to their credit they pushed the President to get involved militarily to prevent the slaughter of everybody in Benghazi.
I have been told that the plan for Benghazi was to have a permanent footprint and for Secretary Clinton to go down there as one of her last acts to say: We are here, and we are here to stay. The problem with that scenario is that the security had deteriorated because we had absolutely no plan to fall on after the fall of Qadhafi.
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Mr. GRAHAM. I think the White House, in my view--this is a reasonable conclusion but not a fair conclusion because we don't know exactly what happened yet. But I can tell you this: Somebody at the White House on September 14 pressured the intelligence community to change the story of Benghazi. And on September 15, why did they pick Susan Rice? She said that Secretary Clinton was tired and had gone through a lot of trauma. I am sure that is true, but I know Secretary Clinton pretty well. I think she is tough.
Let's put it this way: She could not be on TV to talk about what happened at the State Department because she was distraught? I don't buy that. Does anybody believe that about Secretary Clinton? And if it is true, it is something the American people need to consider. I don't believe it is true. I don't believe she was incapable of going on television, as Susan Rice says. I believe they picked a person very loyal to the President who would say whatever needed to be said. What she said was so far away from the truth that it needs to be investigated. What she said was so beneficial to the President's reelection that it needs to be investigated.
She was speaking definitively about Benghazi on September 15 while the FBI was interviewing survivors on the 15th, 16th, and the 17th. Why would any administration go on national television and tell the world what happened in Benghazi while the FBI is still interviewing people who were in the attack?
And where did the FBI's interviews go?
I talked to the Deputy Director of the FBI who is now retired. He said not one person interviewed by the FBI in Germany ever said there was a protest; all of them said it was a terrorist attack. So how could the FBI have interviews from every person on the ground in Benghazi who worked for the State Department saying that there was no protest and it was a terrorist attack, and that not get into the system? Did the FBI just sit on these interviews? Who did they give those interviews to? How could Susan Rice tell the American people and the world we know what happened in Benghazi before the interviews were over? She went on television to spin this story. How could the President of the United States, after the interviews were taken, go before the American people time and time again for weeks and tell a story about a protest that never occurred? This may not be a big deal to my colleagues, but it is a hell of a big deal to me.
When Abu Ghraib blew up, Senator McCain and myself said: This is not a few rotten apples; this is system failure. Before the surge, when Iraq was falling apart, we said: This is not working, no matter what people in the Bush administration are telling us. We know better. We have been there. When Gitmo was a mess, we didn't sweep it under the rug. We worked with Senator Levin and Senator Feinstein, two great Americans, to get the definitive truth as best we could about failures at Abu Ghraib, about Gitmo, and we spoke truth to power when it came to Iraq.
Mr. McCAIN. Regarding Iraq, we called for the resignation of the Secretary of Defense because of the failures in Iraq.
Mr. GRAHAM. Yes, we did.
Now here we are, years later, and the families have no clue as to what happened to their loved ones. Quit blaming the dead guy. This suggestion that Chris Stevens had fault for his own death--Chris Stevens was in Benghazi because that is where he was supposed to be doing what America wanted him to do: Try to hold Libya together. So there is not going to be any blame on the dead guy.
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Mr. GRAHAM. If the Senator will yield, I am trying to find the press statement of the White House official that says the President has consulted with his national security team--I am paraphrasing--about the threats we face throughout the world and that we are ready. This is on September 10. What does this report tell us about September 11? We were so far away from being ready that it is unnerving. So there is a lot to be asked. Why would somebody in the White House issue a statement on 10 September talking about being ready for any contingency anywhere and basically assuring the American people the President is on top of this when, clearly, he was not?
Mr. McCAIN. Another question for my colleagues: The attack went on for a period of some nine hours, as I recall. Over that period of time, with the hundreds of airplanes, aircraft that we have and the ships and other military capabilities we have in the area, in the Mediterranean, we were not able to get any real significant help. There are a number of accounts of where a team supposedly landed, were held at the airport, were not allowed to move in, and all of that. All of these are questions that have not been answered.
General Ham told the Senator from South Carolina and me over the phone that he didn't have any assets that were capable of reaching Benghazi. Does he mean we don't have the capability over an 8- or 9-hour period to get some relief to an ongoing attack? Again, what was the hangup that kept people at the airport who finally did get there?
Mr. GRAHAM. If I could follow along with that thought, because it is a very good question, No. 1, if the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff publicly testified they knew it was a terrorist attack from the moment it started and told the White House, how did that get lost? How can they start talking about a protest and video when our own Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in real time tell the White House, but they only spoke to the President once with a prescheduled meeting just when the attack started? The Secretary of Defense----
Mr. McCAIN. We still don't know what the President did that evening.
Mr. GRAHAM. We know he has answered one question. He said he wanted to be transparent and open and let everybody read the story of Benghazi. We have deployed a small force asking questions, and the answer to one question, finally: Did you call anybody in Libya, Mr. President, that night? No. We have a rescue team held up at the Benghazi Airport for 2 1/2 hours.
Ms. AYOTTE. May I also add to that the President--we heard testimony that obviously the Secretary of Defense and others knew right away this was a terrorist attack. Let's not forget the 16-minute interview where he is asked about that on September 12, and he said it is too early to tell exactly how this came about. When he is asked directly if this is a terrorist attack, he would not identify it as a terrorist attack.
I will also add this. What is so sad about this is no one has been held accountable. The warnings were there. Not only were the warnings there from the August 16 cable that came from the embassy, from Ambassador Stevens, saying that the consulate could not withstand a coordinated attack, but what has been lost in all of this? When we talk about the New York Times trying to erase Al Qaeda from this, the day before, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of Al Qaeda, released a video just before September 11, 2012, just before this terrorist attack--which, by the way, occurred on September 11, of course, which should have given us a pretty direct clue that this was a terrorist attack. But al-Zawahiri issued this video acknowledging and eulogizing the death of Abu Yahya al-Libi in a drone strike and calling for terrorist attacks. Al-Libi was a Libyan who served as the second in command in Al Qaeda under Zawahiri and was a top leader in the Libyan Islamic fighting group.
Think about the evidence that was there before, not only what we didn't do to protect that consulate but the warnings that a terrorist attack was coming.
Mr. GRAHAM. If I may, who was the person who decided to approve a year's lease on this piece of property in July after it had been attacked in June? They blew a hole in the wall that 40 people could go through on June 10. So somebody said: Hey, this is a great site; let's extend the lease for another year, to July 2013. They never reinforced it, never added any appreciable security, and denied all the security requests. This goes on and on.
If we want to know about the bridge, that is great. If we want to know about what Chris Christie knew when and what he should have known, great, go for it. All fair. Does anybody care about what our President did that night? Does anybody really care if the President of the United States, for two weeks, talks about a protest that never happened, while all of the evidence suggests otherwise? Does anybody really care that the consulate was a death trap and nobody in Washington ever responded? Does anybody care that nobody has been brought to justice? Does anybody in this country care that somebody in the White House, on September 14, obviously for political reasons, took the intelligence and turned it upside down? Does anybody care that Susan Rice, who has nothing to do with Benghazi, was the spokesman for the country, telling a story not founded in fact, founded in political advantage? I think Americans do care.
Ms. AYOTTE. Let me ask the Senator from South Carolina this. Does anyone care that the Secretary of State claimed she knew nothing about this August 16 cable? She didn't know about these cables leading up to what had happened in Benghazi, about the warning the Red Cross left and the French left, the hole blown through the consulate, and the August 16 cable. Yet Secretary Panetta was aware of it. Chairman Dempsey was aware of it when he came before the Armed Services Committee, but the Secretary of State wasn't aware of it.
Mr. GRAHAM. How can the Secretary of Defense know about the security environment in the Benghazi Consulate and the Secretary of State not know? All I can say is it does matter.
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