Acting Deputy Spokesman Patrick Ventrell defended the State Department restricting access to Congress from lower-level staffers directly involved with the Benghazi investigation. Ventrell said that it was “appropriate” for the FBI and the Accountability Review Board to interview the Department employees but that Congress should only have access to their superiors. “Just as you wouldn’t have necessarily a soldier or troops called as witnesses, you have their superior officers, that’s the same practice for the State Department,” Ventrell argued. Ventrell went on to say, “I think that these folks want to be able to continue their professional duties and activities,” and that restricting them from testifying before Congress was “protecting” Department employees.
QUESTION: And just to follow up on what you just said to Matt, you made clear that some of the survivors of the attack have provided their recollections of it to various entities including the ARB, the FBI. Does the Department oppose those individuals being made available for questioning by key congressional staff or lawmakers?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, most of them are back on duty and doing functions at various places around the world. The bottom line is that congressional testimony is at the Deputy Assistant Secretary level and above, and just as you wouldn’t have necessarily a soldier or troops called as witnesses, you have their superior officers, that’s the same practice for the State Department. And again, I think, as I’ve mentioned, we’ve had some eight hearings and 20 briefings and made our senior officials repeatedly available. And in terms of the ARB report, we were clear where there mistakes that were made, and we’ve been clear where we’re implementing very thoroughly all of the recommendations, which you heard the former Secretary say that we accepted all of them and the current Secretary say that we’re implementing all of the recommendations. So -
QUESTION: But to the fact that you’re not making these people available to Congress, is that a suggestion that you don’t think that this is an appropriate venue for further investigation of the matter?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I think that these folks want to be able to continue their professional duties and activities, and -
QUESTION: Are you saying, like, that the ARB and the FBI investigation stand as is, and Congress has –
MR. VENTRELL: And they have access to all of that information.
QUESTION: But do they have access to all the witness testimony from the people that were interviewed?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure of the exact format, but my information –
QUESTION: You said “all that information.” You said, “they have access to all that information.”
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. So, they were interviewed by the ARB, and their accounts are reflected in the unclassified and classified ARB reports, both of which were shared with Congress.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: I didn’t get an answer to my question of whether or not you – the Department opposes the provision of these individuals to the – so the answer is yes, the Department opposes making those individuals available.
MR. VENTRELL: The answer is that the standard practice going back for a very long time is that there are senior officers who are willing to testify on behalf of this Department about our operations, and we’ve done so and will continue to do so, but that our staff members at the working level continue to do their work going forward.
Matt, go ahead.
QUESTION: But that is different; senior officers who weren’t there on the day and night in question obviously have a secondhand testimony from the people who were there. I mean –
MR. VENTRELL: Right. But the appropriate avenue for investigation was the FBI, which interviewed these witnesses, and the independent ARB, which also did so, and that was the appropriate avenue to do so that would allow the information to come forward but do so in a way that protects these people as well.