Defense, State Dept Respond to Issa on Attorneys for Benghazi Witnesses

Defense, State Dept Respond to Issa on Attorneys for Benghazi Witnesses

Department of Defense and State Department officials have responded to letters sent by Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, in regards to legal representation for whistleblowers of the September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Issa requested clarification of the processes necessary for legal representatives of witnesses with first-hand information of the attacks to attain clearance to speak with their clients about classified information.

DoD’s Acting General Counsel Robert Taylor wrote on April 30 to Issa:

The Department has procedures in place to consider and clear attorneys who require access to classified information to represent their clients. Consistent with those procedures, the Department will consider any written request for a security clearance for a DoD employee’s personal counsel which is necessary to ensure proper legal representation. To date my office is unaware of any such clearance request to the Department in connection with your investigation of the attack in Benghazi, Libya.

State Department official Thomas Gibbons wrote a similar response on May 1 to the Oversight Chairman:

The Department routinely provides security clearances to private attorneys for access to classified national security information in a variety of contexts where such a clearance is requested in order to allow the private attorney to properly represent a Department employee. The Department routinely considers written requests for a security clearance for an employee’s private attorney which is necessary to ensure proper legal representation. We would ask that any such request with respect to Benghazi, either by the employee or the employee’s counsel, be directed to the Office of the Assistant Legal Adviser for Employment Law within the Office of the Legal Adviser. We would emphasize that, despite some of the recent media reporting, to date, we are unaware of any such request having been made to the Office of the Legal Adviser regarding Benghazi.

Other than the first step an employee needs to take for their counsel to gain clearance, the letters did not describe the process further.

According to Hill, the State Department essentially ceded a willingness to take an application from an attorney without the whistleblower being forced to take the first step and giving away his or her identity to management before legal representation has clearance from the agency.

The Oversight Committee is conducting hearings investigating last September’s deadly Benghazi attack next Wednesday on Capitol Hill. In a recent letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Congressman Issa made pointed criticisms about what he described as the Department’s attempts “to impede or otherwise delay” his Committee’s investigation into the Benghazi attack.

“The expectation we have as a committee is when the attorney does contact the agency and asks, basically, if to help move her through the clearance process, they agency will be responding in a timely fashion moving forward through the process,” Hill said. “We’re going to continue to monitor the situation.”