GOP trio wants answers on Obama's actions during Benghazi

Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., hold a press conference November 14, 2012 on Capitol Hill regarding the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
KAREN BLEIER / AFP / Getty Images

As the Senate moves toward confirmation votes on defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, Republican Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte say they are sending letters to President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper looking for more answers on last year's attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The senators - all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which heard testimony from Hagel two weeks ago - are narrowing down a laundry list of questions, many posed in previous letters sent to administration officials by Republican members. The administration has not responded to the previous letters over several months. "We've killed a small forest" writing letters, says Graham.

The letter to the president asks one question: "During the eight hours the U.S. mission was under attack, did you personally speak with any officials in the Libyan government to request assistance for our American personnel?"

The senators say the response is key because there was a period of hours where Americans in Benghazi were awaiting help but unable to get it. At one point, before the last two Americans were killed, a small U.S. rescue team from Tripoli was held up by Libyan officials at the Benghazi airport. The senators want to know whether Mr. Obama personally intervened to speak to Libyan officials and try to get help.

The deadly terrorist attack in Benghazi on Sept. 11 killed four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation," Graham threatened to put a "hold" on the confirmations of Hagel and CIA Director nominee John Brennan

"I'm not going to stop until we get to the bottom of it," Graham said on "Face the Nation" after hearing testimony last week from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Panetta said after a short initial briefing, he never again heard from President Obama during the attacks. "We know nothing about what the president did on the night of September 11, during a time of national crisis, and the American people need to know what their commander-in-chief did, if anything, during the eight-hour attack," said Graham.

"...I don't know what the president did that evening," he continued. "I don't know if he ever called anyone. I know he never talked to the secretary of defense. I know that he never talked to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs....I know the secretary of state never talked to the secretary of defense. This was incredibly mismanaged. And what we know now, it seems to be a very disengaged president."

Meantime, Senate and White House sources tell CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett that Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have grown impatient with Republican requests for more information from Hagel or the White House and pushed to wrap up Hagel's confirmation this week.

With the votes scheduled, Democrats are hoping Graham will now be pressured to stop short of placing a hold on Hagel, but they have not indicated whether the administration will consider answering the Republicans' questions to end the threat of a hold.

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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.