By Gregory Wallace
Sen. John McCain, prominent among the Washington ranks who have questioned former Sen. Chuck Hagel's suitability for the top Defense Department post, said Sunday he will not exert his power to block Hagel's nomination.
"No," he told CNN when asked directly whether he would block the nomination in the Senate. "I plan to make a judgment as to whether I think he's appropriate to be Secretary of Defense or not."
Each senator has the power to prevent a nomination from advancing to the floor, and one of McCain's close colleagues, Sen. Lindsey Graham, has suggested he would put President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the CIA on hold while awaiting answers on the U.S. Consulate attack in September in Benghazi, Libya.
McCain said he does not plan to block that nomination or that of John Brennan for the CIA, either. He said he does have questions for both.
By Pam Benson
The Senate Intelligence Committee wants to know exactly what the CIA told the makers of a controversial movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden that might have contributed to the film's suggestion that the harsh interrogation of a suspected terrorist helped find the al Qaeda leader.
A bipartisan group of senior senators said in a statement Thursday that they had written two letters to CIA Acting Director Michael Morell asking for all information and documents the agency provided to the makers of "Zero Dark Thirty." They also want Morell to provide proof for comments he made saying that harsh interrogations played a role in finding bin Laden.
Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin and Republican Sen. John McCain said they are concerned that the CIA may have provided information that might have misled the movie's director Kathryn Bigelow and its writer Mark Boal. Morell and other CIA officers met with the filmmakers shortly after the May 2011 raid.
By Pam Benson
Three U.S. senators say the new film about the Osama bin Laden raid is "grossly inaccurate and misleading" in how it depicts CIA interrogations as torture and have called on the studio distributing "Zero Dark Thirty" to publicly state the movie is not based on fact.
In a bipartisan letter to Sony Pictures Entertainment on Wednesday, Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin and Republican Sen. John McCain said they were deeply disappointed in the film.
"Zero Dark Thirty is factually inaccurate, and we believe that you have an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Osama bin Laden is not based on the facts, but rather part of the films fictional narrative," the senators wrote.
By Mike Mount
With little fanfare Monday, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford was confirmed by the Senate as the newest commander for the international forces in Afghanistan, charged with overseeing the final two years of the U.S.-led war and executing the White House plan to phase out troops and leave a small number behind after 2014.
Dunford, much like his confirmation, has made a career of flying under the radar, but he will be front and center as the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, replacing Gen. John Allen. He is well-known in the tight-knit Marine Corps community as a thoughtful and calm leader and has 22 months of commanding in Iraq.
Until his name emerged in August as the nominee for the top job in Afghanistan, few people had heard of him.
His first real position in the public spotlight came at his confirmation hearing last month, which was notable mostly for Sen. John McCain's rant that Dunford lacked Afghanistan experience. McCain seemed amazed that Dunford was not part of the planning phase of the Afghanistan drawdown.
The Arizona senator's concern about Dunford's lack of experience in Afghanistan is quickly refuted by those close to Dunford, who said his work as assistant commandant of the Marine Corps took him to Afghanistan many times. He is no stranger to the country operationally because he was also the head of the Marine Corps command that handles operations and logistics in Afghanistan. He also spent time in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he focused on Afghanistan.
Dunford would not be the first ISAF commander with no real Afghanistan ground experience. When then-Gen. David Petraeus took the position, he had commanded Central Command, which oversaw the war from the U.S., but had never commanded troops on the ground inside Afghanistan. Petraeus's experience was in Iraq.
By Suzanne Kelly
A conciliatory meeting between U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and Republican critics backfired following revelations that the CIA removed terrorism references in unclassified talking points about the U.S. consulate attack in Libya.
Rice, who serves as the top U.S. envoy to the United Nations, met with Republican senators Tuesday over the September 11 attack against the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
She asked for the meeting with Republican Sens. John McCain, Kelly Ayotte and Lindsey Graham after their sharp criticism of her response to the Benghazi attack. The Republican senators have maintained that they are concerned about her explanation on what caused the attack.
At the time of the attack that left four Americans dead this year, Rice said an anti-U.S. demonstration led to the violence, an assertion later disproved by intelligence officials and reports from the ground.
By Pam Benson
The nation's counterterrorism chief told Congress on Wednesday the assault on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans was a terrorist attack.
But National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen said at a Senate hearing the best information so far indicates that armed extremists did not plan in advance to assault the Benghazi consulate last Tuesday, but took advantage of an opportunity to do so during a demonstration over an anti-Muslim film.
Olsen said the investigation continues and facts are being developed. But he said it "appears that individuals who were certainly well armed seized on the opportunity presented as the events unfolded that evening and into the morning of September 12.
"We do know that a number of militants in area, as I mentioned, are well armed and maintain those arms. What we don't have at this point is specific intelligence that there was a significant advanced planning or coordination for this attack," he said.
By Pam Benson
President Barack Obama is keeping all options on the table to help the Syrian opposition in its battle to oust the regime of Bashar al-Assad, including the possibility of implementing a no-fly zone, Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser said Wednesday.
John Brennan, deputy national security adviser, said the administration already is providing support in various ways to the rebels, including humanitarian aid. Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Brennan said the United States is looking at scenarios and making contingency plans as the situation evolves in Syria.
"These are things that the United States government has been looking at very carefully, trying to understand the implications, trying to understand the advantages and disadvantages of this, and the president has kept us all quite busy making sure that we're able to do everything possible that's going to advance the interests of peace in Syria and not again going to do anything that is going to contribute to more violence," Brennan said.
From Mike Mount
CNN Senior National Security Producer
Congress is asking top U.S. defense contractors to disclose their corporate plans if the military is forced to cut $500 billion from its budget early next year, putting the companies in the middle of a political fight between Republicans and the White House.
In a letter sent Thursday to 15 major defense contractors by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and six other GOP senators as well as independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut, the companies were asked to answer five questions about the effect the potential massive cuts, known as sequestration, would have on their bottom line, employees and suppliers.
By Pam Benson
A group of Republican senators continued to fire away Tuesday at the Obama administration for its failure to appoint a special counsel to investigate leaks of classified information.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, once again led the charge at a Capitol Hill news conference, criticizing Attorney General Eric Holder for his decision to appoint two Justice Department prosecutors to investigate the recent leaks to the media.
"To think that two people appointed prosecutors from Mr. Holder's office, overseen by Mr. Holder, is also offensive," McCain said. "We need a special counsel. We need someone who the American people can trust and we need to stop the leaks that are endangering the lives of those men and women who are serving our country."
Holder responded to the accusations at a June 12 congressional hearing. He said the Justice Department and the FBI are keeping a careful eye on any potential conflict of interest, but said of the prosecutors, "We have people who have shown independence, an ability to be thorough, and who have the guts to ask tough questions. And the charge that I've given them is to follow the leads wherever they are ... wherever it is in the executive branch or some other component of government."
By Larry Shaughnessy
Sequestration is like the weather in Washington - everybody talks about it, no one likes it, and no one knows what to do about it.
But the Senate has agreed to find out exactly how bad it - sequestration, that is - will be.
Sequestration is the name given the automatic across-the-board spending cuts mandated by Congress if planned budget cuts could not be agreed to.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, a vocal critic of sequestration, teamed with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, to offer an amendment passed by the Senate Thursday examining what sequestration would really mean. FULL POST