Brennan's path to CIA director faces roadblock

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Obama's pick for CIA director John Brennan defended the use of drone strikes against suspected terrorists. Alex Wong

A week after former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., managed to win confirmation as defense secretary with just a handful of Republican votes, President Obama's pick to lead the CIA, his counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, will have his support in the Senate tested.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to vote on Brennan's nomination today, and the full Senate is expected to consider it later this week, in what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., described as "a test of Republicans' good will."

"Republicans say they will not filibuster. But their actions say otherwise," Reid said on the Senate floor yesterday.

Like Hagel's nomination, Republicans plan on trying to block Brennan's nomination because of lingering questions over the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran, also faces questions over the administration's use of drones, as well as his position on torture. The White House, meanwhile, insists it is going to great lengths to answer senators' questions.

Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation", Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., vowed to "stop" Brennan's confirmation until they received more details about the White House's handling of the Benghazi attack.

"John and I are hell-bent on making sure the American people understand this debacle called Benghazi," Graham said.

The White House has shared with the Senate Intelligence Committee documents related to the attack, including emails between top national security officials that illustrate the back-and-forth over how to characterize the attack. Graham, however, said on "Face the Nation" that "there's a big gap" in the emails. Furthermore, Graham said he wants to see the FBI's interviews of the survivors of the attack, without all of the redactions.

"I want to know who the survivors are so we can interview them," he said. "I'm not going to vote on a new CIA director until I find out what the CIA did in Benghazi."

On the Senate floor yesterday, Reid dismissed the GOP concerns as political theater.

"At a time when America faces so many threats abroad, it's crucial we have a talented and dedicated individuals like John Brennan leading our most prominent intelligence agency," he said. "Yet Republicans have, again and again, injected politics into the confirmation process - both when considering judicial nominees and, most recently, when considering Cabinet nominees."

In an apparent attempt to defend their line of questioning, Graham, McCain and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., released a document yesterday laying out what they know about the Benghazi attack and what they do not know. For instance, they wrote, "We do not know what the President did or who he was in contact with during the seven hours of the attack, and we do not know why the President did not reach out to Libyan President Magariaf to ensure deployment of a U.S. tactical team that was held up for three hours at a Libyan airport."

Meanwhile, on "Face the Nation", McCain said that in addition to questions on Benghazi, "I have some questions about torture."

During a tense hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee last month, Brennan said that he raised "personal objections" to "some agency colleagues" while he was at the CIA about the use of enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. He said he did not officially object to the use of those tactics because he was not at the time in the chain of command at the CIA. He insisted, however, that he considers waterboarding "reprehensible" and would not use the method if confirmed as CIA director.

Brennan's nomination could also be held up over questions regarding the administration's drone policies. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has promised to hold up Brennan's nomination until he gets answers on whether the U.S. could hit a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil with a drone strike. He's sent at least three letters to Brennan on the matter, but as of last week had yet to hear back.

White House spokesman Jay Carney yesterday said the administration has shared with some members of Congress the advice it has received on the issue from the Office of Legal Counsel.

"We have taken extraordinary measures in a unique situation to be forthcoming with information," Carney said, refusing to go into further detail. Brennan, he said, "is extraordinarily qualified for the position, and he needs to get on the job."

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