Three leading Senate Republicans say the recent testimony of former CIA acting and deputy director Michael Morell before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on the Benghazi talking points was not only inaccurate, it was misleading.
"Michael Morell's testimony last week to me was not remotely credible," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters.
Along with then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, Morell met with the Sens. Graham, Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and John McCain,R-Ariz., in November 2012. They say Morell blamed the FBI for key changes to the flawed explanation that blamed a protest for the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sep. 11, 2012. Once he realized the error, Morell testified that he moved quickly.
"I didn't wait until I heard that the FBI was upset before I corrected the record," Morell testified under oath. "I corrected the record as soon as I found out. How many people in this town do that?”
But the senators disagreed, emphasizing at a Capitol Hill news conference that they asked Morell who changed the talking points, but instead of answering the question directly, they say Morell blamed the FBI for key changes, including cutting the term Al Qaeda. They added Morell should have owned up on the spot because they later learned he personally cut 50 percent of the text based on e-mails released by the administration.
When the CIA called after the senators' meeting, they say there was no mention of Morell's personal involvement.
"Mr. Morell told us that the FBI did the talking points and then later in his view corrected the record," McCain explained. "Obviously he didn't correct the record."
Since retiring, Morell has joined Beacon Global Strategies, a D.C. consulting firm with close ties to Hillary Clinton. One of its four founders, Philippe Reines, has been described by the New York Times as Clinton’s principal gatekeeper.
"I believe this conflict of interest justifies a new set of eyes, justifies a select committee," Graham said. "This is what's wrong with Washington. How do I go back to the families of the dead, and to South Carolinians who care about Benghazi, and tell them this is o.k.?"
Another Republican lawmaker went further, emphasizing that the House Intelligence Committee's former Republican staff director, Michael Allen, has gone into business with Morell, Reines and others whom he once investigated.
"It's very concerning that he (Allen) has gone into a group that was formed for one purpose and one purpose only and that seems to be that they can protect and smooth the path for Hillary Clinton to be our next president in 2016, and to solve her problems, very real problems on Benghazi." explained Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who sits on the Intelligence Committee and questioned Morell.
Allen's publicly available congressional disclosure forms were obtained by Fox News from the clerk's office on Capitol Hill. While Beacon Global Strategies LLC registered for business in Washington in April 2013, according to the disclosure forms Allen, who is also a founding partner and managing director, did not file an intent to enter negotiations with the congressional Ethics Committee until July 2013.
When asked to reconcile the discrepancy, Beacon said in a statement it approached Allen at the end of June, which appears to leave a gap. Fox News had asked Allen when discussions began, not formal negotiations.
The congressional disclosure forms also show Allen's unsecured personal debt, excluding mortgages, exceeded $175,000 when he took the Beacon job in August 2013.
Fox News asked Allen 10 days ago to explain the disclosure forms, specifically the declared debt, whether there were mitigating circumstances such as a family illness, and whether the debt was a factor in his decision to take the Beacon job, or affected his decision making prior to July 2013 when he formally filed with the Ethics Committee.
Fox News also asked for a further explanation of the June to July 2013 gap.
There was no response from Allen after a second request for comment Wednesday, but a partner with Mercury LLC "specializing in crisis communications" contacted Fox News, stating they represented Beacon Global Strategies and asked to review Fox's questions. In a previous statement to Fox News on March 24, Beacon Global Strategies said:
“This firm was founded on the strong belief that keeping America secure must be a nonpartisan endeavor, and is dedicated to acting in a truly bipartisan manner. We not only adhere to all governing ethics rules and laws, we strive to go above and beyond those requirements and hold ourselves to the high ethical and professional standards we did throughout our decades serving in government. As for the timeline: this company was formally created by the three original partners in April of 2013. Mr. Allen was approached at the end of June, at which point he filed a “Notification of Negotiations or Agreement for Future Employment” with the US House of Representatives Committee on Ethics. He subsequently filed a “Statement of Recusal” with the same committee. Upon accepting the offer to join the firm in July, he promptly and fully disclosed such to Congressional officials. Mr. Morell was not approached until November. Therefore, nobody could have been influenced by events that were not yet planned and had not yet occurred.”
Bachmann was also skeptical of Morell’s testimony and the Beacon connection. "What we got on the table is a preview of what Hillary Rodham Clinton will use as her narrative on Benghazi if she chooses to run for president in 2016," Bachmann said.
“So now the person who is out testifying before our committee is getting paid by a very friendly, to Hillary Clinton, consulting group and so what we saw is Mike Morrell will take the fall for the State Department. He is going to take the fall for Hillary Clinton and say "’look I changed the talking points.’"
Before the Ayotte, McCain and Graham news conference, House Democrats said Republicans are turning the Benghazi tragedy into a costly witch hunt.
"Why are they trying to throw as much mud against the wall and see what sticks," Adam Smith, D-Wash., said. "Problem is they've been throwing the same mud for quite some time."
"We have had enough of the false statements," Elijah Cummings, D-Md., added. "Enough of the partisanship and enough of trying to use this terrible national security incident for political gain."
Ayotte responded,"Some of the Democrats have said 'Why are we still continuing to want to investigate this?' So many of the outstanding issues that have not been answered and the inconsistencies that are apparent, but we have held no one accountable. I would think that there would be some intellectual curiosity just on that point."
Separately, Fox News asked Morell for comment on the senators' new allegations, but there was no immediate response.
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.