"There's a definite sense within the caucus that you have to be conservative about where you put your firepower," said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly on internal GOP deliberations. "The question is whether the caucus is prepared to filibuster her, and I'm not sure we were."
Intelligence officials have said they knew immediately that the Sept. 11 incident was a terrorist attack and suspected that the local al-Qaida branch was involved. But they also initially believed that the attack may have grown spontaneously from a protest against the film.
Unclassified talking points provided to Rice and other administration officials in the days following the attack omitted references to terrorists and al-Qaida because intelligence officials said the information was tenuous and could tip their hand in the investigation. The administration also didn't want to prejudice a criminal investigation.
Rice said she used those talking points in Sept. 16 interviews in defending the administration's protection of overseas diplomats, saying "clusters of extremists" had "hijacked" film protests. Officials say it wasn't until after Rice spoke that intelligence agencies adjusted the assessment to clarify that the attack was not spontaneous or related to a protest.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said Rice should have reviewed the raw classified intelligence and not just relied on unclassified talking points provided to her.
Graham said he remains unconvinced that Rice was relying solely on information provided to her by intelligence agencies. But Graham said he is most concerns with the broader administration's handling of the matter.
"This is about four dead Americans," he said on "This Week" on ABC. "This is about a national security failure. We need a focused look at what happened here."