Nine months after completion of the report that faulted State Department officials for inadequate security at the Benghazi compound, members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee today questioned the review board’s leaders on why they never interviewed top officials, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The hearing renewed the partisan disputes that have surrounded the investigation of the Benghazi attack on Sept. 11, 2012, that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
“The vast majority of Americans feel your report was a whitewash,” Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican, told the chairman and vice chairman of the Accountability Review Board appointed by Clinton to investigate the attack.
The report found no State Department employees had committed a “breach of duty,” although some failed to show proactive leadership.
“It looks like a sort of inside job of investigation -- the Department of State looking at the Department of State,” Mica said.
Committee Democrats rejected that description and issued their own report today accusing Republicans of unfairly attacking both the review board and the Obama administration’s handling of the attack.
Former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, the review board’s chairman, said his panel was free to investigate anyone it wished without restriction. He said the board didn’t interview Clinton because it had no need to “go to the people who didn’t make the decisions” on security in Benghazi.
“If the secretary wasn’t involved, I must be on another planet,” Mica said.
“Our criticism today is, was it the appropriate investigation?” Issa asked. “Was it complete?”
‘On the Mark’
Pickering said his panel’s work, based on more than 100 interviews, thousands of pages of documents and hours of videos, “is still on the mark, free of cover-up and political tilt.”
Clinton, who was succeeded by John Kerry as secretary in February and leads in early polls of potential presidential candidates for 2016, told a Senate committee in January that the State Department was moving to correct lapses in security cited in the report.
“I take responsibility, and nobody is more committed to getting this right,” she said. Pushing aside Republican questions about the Obama administration’s initial, incorrect account of the attack, Clinton said, “The fact is, we have four dead Americans. What difference at this point does it make?”
Pickering, under questioning by Democrats on the panel defending Clinton’s role, said there was no evidence that she personally approved any security decisions on the Benghazi compound.
While State Department cables on security surfaced with Clinton’s name on them, “All cables sent out by the Department of State are stamped with the secretary’s name,” he said.
The review board also rebutted charges by Republicans that the U.S. military could have rescued some of the slain Americans had forces not been ordered to stand down.
“An order to stand down was never given,” said retired Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who served as the review board’s vice chairman.
He said four Special Operations troops in Tripoli were told not to go to Benghazi because they wouldn’t have reached the Americans in time and the evacuation from Benghazi had already been completed. He said there were no fighter planes on alert and ready to deploy from bases in Europe to reach Benghazi in enough time to make a difference.
“They didn’t fall down on the job, and I just completely disagree with that view,” Mullen said.
In the last year, the Pentagon has stepped up its contribution to diplomatic security by moving as many as 1,000 Marines into the program, said Garry Reid, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, in testimony today to the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
He said the Pentagon has increased the minimum size of Marine Security Guard detachments at high-risk posts from 7 to 13. The Pentagon also will deploy 35 new detachments by the end of next year, he said.
The mission of Marine guards, who traditionally were used only to protect classified information at embassies, has been expanded to include the protection of people and facilities, according to Reid.
“I want to underscore that we are more ready than ever to respond to a crisis or attack if one occurs without warning,” he said.
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