Regardless of planned hearings to continue to investigate the deadly September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, the State Department is finding ways to drag its feet in releasing information Congress needs to investigate the assault that took the lives of four Americans, including U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens.
Congressman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on April 26 saying the Sate Department “has in fact attempted to impede or otherwise delay the Committee’s investigation, and it continues to do so. The Department has employed a range of tactics to interfere with the Committee’s investigation.”
Issa mentioned a number of efforts by the State Department that have interferred, including: only allowing Committee investigators to review all documents (classified and unclassified) on camera; requiring a State Department minder around Committee investigators while reviewing evidence; and restricting the Committee’s access to witnesses.
“Besides impeding the work of Committee investigators, this arrangement was wasteful and unnecessary. The State Department paid an employee to babysit boxes of documents for weeks–documents of the sort that the Committee regularly stores in its own secured areas,” Issa stated.
He added, “Notwithstanding the fact that the Committee has both the right and the capability to review and possess classified information, I note that approximately 80 percent of the documents in question are unclassified and marked identically to documents routinely sent to the Committee without the same restrictions placed upon them.”
On April 17, when asked about the constant delays by the State Department on the Bengahzi investigation, Secretary Kerry told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, “There’s certainly no position by me to delay anything, and I was not aware.”
“The Department’s posture towards the Committee’s investigative prerogative has been wholly inconsistent with your testimony to the Foreign Affairs Committee and contrary to the president’s pledge ‘to cooperate in any ways that Congress wants’ with respect to the Benghazi investigation,” Issa writes.
Additionally, Issa described how State Department employees threatened to destroy Oversight Committee’s property. Issa instructed Committee investigators to store key documents each day in a lock bag separate from the larger sets of documents that were delivered. According to Issa, these documents remained in lock bags with the rest of the documents “at all times” and left with the Department minder for overnight storage at the end of each day.
“In response, officials from the Department’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs stopped making any Benghazi documents available to the Committee. They also delivered an ultimatum: unless the Committee provided the key to the lock bag, and thus access to what amounted the roadmap for the Committee’s investigation, the Department would destroy the Committee’s lock bag and revisit the Committee’s already -limited terms of access to the documents,” Issa explained.
According to the Chairman, after he personally intervened on the matter, the Bureau of Legislative Affairs “eventually relented.”
Eyewitnesses to the attacks in Benghazi are having a difficult time in terms of their legal representation as well. Washington, D.C. Attorney Victoria Toensing is representing one such whistleblower, but the State Department is blocking her from receiving a security clearance so her client can talk with her about relevant information regarding the deadly Benghazi attacks.
Issa told Secretary of State John Kerry last week that he direct Deputy Legal Adviser Mary McLeod to respond to his April 16 letter, asking the State Department about providing clearance for legal counsel who would represent Benghazi attack witnesses. Similar letters were sent to officials at the CIA and Pentagon.
Congressman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), a member of the House Oversight Committee, told Fox News on Saturday that hearings regarding the attacks in Benghazi are expected soon. “There are more Benghazi hearings coming; I think they’re going to be explosive,” he said.
The Committee has met with Benghazi whistleblowers, but Issa cites possible retaliation whistleblowers could face at the hands of administration officials, leading the Chairman to decline to publicly name those who have been in contact with the committee.
Five House committees are currently investigating the terrorist attacks in Benghazi. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), along with over 100 other members, hope House Speaker John Boehner will appoint a Select Committee to investigate the attacks as well.