Senator Lindsey Graham has released his hold on the confirmation of two key State Department officials, The Cable has learned.
Since October, the South Carolina Republican has vowed to block President Obama’s nominees from being confirmed by the Senate unless the administration makes more eyewitnesses of the September 2012 attack in Benghazi available to Congress. But a Graham spokesperson says her boss has made an exception for Anne Patterson, Obama’s pick for Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, and Gregory Starr, nominated to be Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security. Graham’s holds on all other administration nominees remain in place.
When asked if the State Department gave Graham anything in return for the lifted holds, the spokesperson said "no." A State Department official concurred: "I don’t think there was anything — just acknowledgment of them as imp[ortant] posts."
Graham’s hold threat was prompted in part by a now-discredited 60 Minutes report that centered on an unreliable witness, a British security contractor, who lied about his activities the night of the Benghazi attack to multiple individuals. After the report aired, Graham tweeted: "Where are the Benghazi survivors? I’m going to block every appointment in the U.S. Senate until they are made available to Congress."
He also cited the report in TV interviews. "The 60 Minutes piece detailed the people on the ground saw this attack coming. Has anybody been fired for letting the consulate become a death trap?" he said.
However, he told CNN’s Candy Crowley on Sunday he was not backing down from his hold on other Obama administration nominees..
"The 60 Minutes story was not true," said Crowley.
"Right," said Graham.
"Will you now end your threat to place a hold on the president’s nominees?" asked Crowley
"No," said Graham. "My request has been going on for a year, to talk to the five survivors of the State Department. I never asked for the British contractor. I didn’t know he existed … We would like to interview the survivors, the five State Department officials, who have been interviewed by the administration, but not by Congress … I want to ask the survivors, who’ve never been interviewed by the Congress — please let me finish here — did you report a protest? Did you report — did you ever indicate there was a protest? Did you say this was a terrorist attack from the beginning?"
When news broke last week that three members of the "elite security team" in Benghazi would testify before the House Intelligence Committee on what they saw in Benghazi, Graham’s spokesperson reiterated again that the hold remained.
It’s not clear why Patterson and Starr were given priority over more high-profile nominations such as Janet Yellen as head of the Federal Reserve or Jeh Johnson as secretary of the department of homeland security. However, one could argue that Starr’s job is directly related to the prevention of future attacks on diplomatic missions such as the one in Benghazi — and that both nominations are further along in the confirmation process. Last month, both Starr and Patterson were approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which allowed the nominations to move to the Senate floor for a final vote.
Patterson, who served a rocky tenure as U.S. ambassador to Egypt during the ouster of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, is now poised to become State’s top diplomat in the Middle East at a particularly tumultuous time.
Starr, meanwhile, is poised to replace Eric Boswell who resigned as Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security in aftermath of the Benghazi attack controversy. Although some of Starr’s detractors in the diplomatic security world enjoy recalling his mishandling of firearms and other professional blemishes, the State Department has rigorously defended his candidacy, which is expected to pass without much turbulence.
Other national-security nominees stuck in confirmation purgatory aren’t so lucky. The list includes: Deborah Lee James, for Secretary of the Air Force; Suzanne Spaulding, for undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security; and Jessica Garfola Wright, for undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness.