The Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said the State Department still hasn’t held any employees at fault for security lapses before the deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya.
“The bottom line is that over one year later, no State Department personnel have been held accountable for the department’s failure to protect the Benghazi consulate and U.S. personnel there, not one,” Representative Ed Royce of California, the panel’s chairman, said at a hearing today.
The session was the first of three hearings over two days scheduled in the House as Republicans seek to renew attention on what they portray as a failure by the Obama administration to protect facilities in Benghazi despite warnings of terrorist threats before the attack on Sept. 11, 2012, that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
“It seems to me the president should be just as concerned with Americans dying in Libya as Syrians dying in Syria,” said Representative Ted Poe, a Republican from Texas.
The year-old Benghazi attack remains a partisan political flash point on Capitol Hill even as the federal government faces a potential shutdown over government spending and the U.S. military remains on alert for a possible strike against Syria if Bashar al-Assad’s regime fails to turn over its chemical weapons.
Democratic Representative Alan Grayson of Florida said Republicans were engaging in “second-guessing” and “Monday-morning quarterbacking” over an attack that amounts to “the scandal that never was.”
While four State Department employees were placed on paid administrative leave, they were later reassigned to other posts. That was sufficient, the department’s top administrative official testified today.
“Four employees of the State Department were relieved of their senior positions,” Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management, testified at today’s hearing. “Accountability includes being relieved of your job and assigned to other positions.”
Royce responded that “reassignment just doesn’t cut it in terms of addressing that issue.”
The Accountability Review Board, an outside panel that investigated the Benghazi attack, concluded there was no breach of duty by State Department employees, although some employees failed to show proactive leadership.
Royce questioned whether the review board was really independent considering that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed four of its five members and some of the board’s staff had ties to the State Department.
“These relationships can affect impartiality,” Royce said.
Kennedy disputed that, saying the critical tone of the report underscored the board’s independence.
Representative Steve Chabot, an Ohio Republican, said the review board’s failure to interview Clinton for its report “was a gross oversight,” and Representative Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, said “the very people who should be held accountable aren’t even interviewed.”
A report issued this week by Representative Darrell Issa, the California Republican who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said it’s unclear why Kennedy wasn’t held accountable by the review board.
The panel proved “remarkably uncurious about the role of decisions made by officials above the four” who were singled out, according to Issa, who has scheduled a hearing with leaders of the review board for tomorrow.