Graham threatens Tunisia over U.S. access to Benghazi suspect

Graham threatens Tunisia over U.S. access to Benghazi suspect

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is threatening to cut U.S. aid to Tunisia if the American government is not given access to Ali Ani al-Harzi, a Tunisian suspected of being involved in the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

The Daily Beast first reported last week that Harzi was arrested, at the behest of the U.S. government, in Turkey, where he fled after posting information about the attack on social media. The Turks handed him over to the Tunisian government, where he was held in military custody and then transferred to a prison to await a court trial. Fox News reported Tuesday that U.S. officials are frustrated that they still haven’t been granted access to Harzi, and the State Department has refused to comment on the matter directly.

Graham, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Operations subcommittee, has been a huge supporter of sending U.S. aid to Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began last year after a fruit vendor lit himself on fire, sparking widespread outrage.

But in his letter Wednesday to the Tunisian chargé d’affaires in Washington, Tarek Amri, Graham said that he would rethink his support for such aid if Harzi remains outside the reach of U.S. officials.

"I have visited your country on several occasions and through my role as the Ranking Member on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations, we have included multiple forms of assistance during the crucial new beginning of Tunisia.  However, if these reports are true, our partnership could be in serious jeopardy," Graham wrote.

"I urge you to engage your government to ensure cooperation between our intelligence services, law enforcement officials, as well as their Libyan counterparts, so that we may question this individual about the horrific attacks that cost us the lives of four brave Americans.  Please be informed that providing access to this suspect is of the highest importance to me and many other members of Congress."

Also Wednesday, the White House denied a widely circulated report that quoted former Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich saying a "fairly reliable senator" told him that there exists a series of emails from the office of National Security Advisor Tom Donilon to a counterterrorism group on the night of the Benghazi attack ordering them to "stand down" rather than mobilize assets to respond to the attack.

"Neither the President nor anyone in the White House denied any requests for assistance in Benghazi during the attack," NSC Spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable by email.