WASHINGTON – Sen. Lindsey Graham and 36 other Senate Republicans called Thursday for a select committee to investigate the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
Republicans who control the House created such a committee last week. Graham and his colleagues said a Senate counterpart is necessary to "bridge jurisdictional gaps."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has refused to create a Benghazi panel, in part because the Senate Intelligence Committee has conducted a bipartisan inquiry into the attacks.
Graham complained that only two of the four relevant Senate committees investigated.
"We think the Senate has been derelict in its job," he told reporters.
Graham has accused the Obama administration of incompetence in handling the attacks, which killed an American ambassador and three others.
On Thursday, he focused his criticism on then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Specifically, Graham questioned why then-United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice — and not Clinton — commented about the attacks on TV the Sunday after they occurred.
Republicans say Rice's comments — that the attacks appeared to spontaneously arise from a protest over an anti-Muslim Internet video — show the White House deliberately misled the public in order to shield President Barack Obama from criticism ahead of the 2012 election. The attacks ultimately were proven to be a planned terrorist act.
Rice told NBC in December 2012 that Clinton was asked to appear on the Sunday shows but declined because "she had had an incredibly grueling week dealing with the protests around the Middle East and North Africa that enveloped our embassies."
Graham said he's "suspicious" of that comment.
"I think most of us who know Secretary Clinton understand she's a very energetic lady — been though a lot, quite frankly a tough person," Graham said. "But let's just assume for a moment that's true. What does that say about Benghazi and about her leadership abilities? I don't believe this, but we'll never know until we talk to Susan Rice and ask Secretary Clinton."
Clinton's health has been in the news since Republican strategist Karl Rove questioned the severity of her injuries after a fall in December 2012. Clinton allies, including her husband, former President Bill Clinton, say her health is fine and the GOP is targeting her as a potential presidential rival in 2016.
Graham recalled that the Senate Armed Services Committee conducted a bipartisan investigation in 2008 into the treatment of terror suspects detained during the George W. Bush administration. He said it would amount to a "double standard" not to do the same on Benghazi.
"To say I'm upset would be an understatement," Graham said.
GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina also signed the letter to Reid calling for a Senate select committee.
House Democrats have not decided whether to participate in that select committee, chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg. The White House said it has already cooperated with 13 congressional hearings and 50 briefings, and has produced 25,000 documents for previous investigations.