Since the Obama Administration has launched the Accountability Review Board (ARB) to investigate the murders of U.S. diplomats and intelligence gatherers in Benghazi, the State Department has been tight-lipped on any developments discovered by news agencies. That changed this week when a State Department official went on the record in an attempt to explain some of the decisions by the State Department in response to the consulate attack.
While the Administration claims they have been stonewalling reporters’ questions because there is an ongoing investigation, frustrations are growing because of the fact that an explanation to already widely-reported events and cables could not possibly interfere with an investigation about unknowns in the aftermath of Benghazi. Is the Administration stonewalling reporters to keep the integrity of an investigation, or is this just a stall tactic because an election is only days away?
Fox News has reported that in the critical response time after the Benghazi attack that senior counterterrorism officials felt “cut out of the loop” and that decisions were “isolated” to “the most senior level.” These officials told Fox News that a FEST team (Foreign Emergency Support Team) should have been deployed immediately because it would have helped the FBI gain access to the consulate much faster. State Department spokesman Philippe Reines explained to Fox News, off camera, that a FEST team is only one “resource” of the State Department, and that one wasn’t called because the embassy in Tripoli was able to operate normally.
This has frustrated reporters because the Administration has now given an official, on the record, statement but refuses to comment further on anything, especially on camera.
Read the exchange below:
QUESTION: There’s another report about security in Benghazi and – well, about the immediate aftermath of the attack and whether or not a FEST team should go. I notice that your colleague, at least one of them, has spoken about this on the record. I am wondering if you can tell us why the decision was made not to ask for one of these teams to go.
MS. NULAND: Again, I am going to leave it to the ARB to do a full review of what went on before, during, and after. I’m not going to get into any of the details from the podium.
QUESTION: So as soon as you stand down, you’ll go on the record and say something?
MS. NULAND: I’m not planning on speaking on this issue at all.
QUESTION: Well, then can you explain why Philippe was quoted in this story, a State Department official?
MS. NULAND: I’m going to again —
QUESTION: You’ve seen what he had to say?
MS. NULAND: I actually didn’t see on this particular matter, but I’m going to refer you to him for anything he wants to say on it.
QUESTION: I think that since it is a television network that is reporting this, that they would – they and all the rest of us would love to have something on camera.
MS. NULAND: I’m sure that the television networks will appreciate you advocating for that, but —
QUESTION: Well, I hope they do.
MS. NULAND: Yeah.
QUESTION: And I think it’s ridiculous for someone, an official in this Department, to speak on the record about something and you not be able to speak about it from the podium. Just because it’s on camera —
MS. NULAND: Well, again —
QUESTION: — doesn’t mean that —
MS. NULAND: Again, I didn’t see what he said this morning, so I will —
QUESTION: Well, can you explain to us why and – since has spoken about it on the record and is quoted in this story as talking about it, can you take that and come back to us on camera and give us a similar explanation as to why a FEST team wasn’t thought to be necessary?
MS. NULAND: I will speak to him and figure out what it is he said, and we will go from there.
But the stonewalling didn’t stop there. After multiple reports that classified documents have been left exposed, to be found by looters and journalists, at the the Benghazi site, reporters in the State Department press pool are questioning how the administration could be so incompetent to let that happen. The State Department didn’t have any answers for reporters and hid behind the excuse that they didn’t have enough facts, 50 days after the attack, to make any comment.
QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait. I got – these documents that Foreign Policy wrote about yesterday also from Benghazi have prompted a letter to the Secretary from Congressman Issa. She’s gotten that, I assume?
MS. NULAND: She’s gotten the letter. We are reviewing it and we expect to respond shortly.
QUESTION: Can you tell us whether anyone – to your knowledge, anyone other than the FBI team that went to the consulate, any other U.S. officials have been to the site since then?
MS. NULAND: I don’t have the answer to that, Matt. I —
QUESTION: Can you explain how, six weeks afterwards, there would still be documents lying around? It seems like maybe this question best directed to the FBI, but the – you basically – the State Department has basically abandoned this site, correct?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to speak to any aspect of Benghazi.
QUESTION: No one has gone back and no one is there right now?
MS. NULAND: I frankly just don’t have the – all of the facts on that here. We will come back to you afterwards if we have anything to add on that.
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