Secretary of State John Kerry promises GOP answers on Benghazi
Saying “I don’t think anybody lied to anybody,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry promised Wednesday to appoint a special liaison to dispel Republican lawmakers’ lingering suspicions over the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.
Mr. Kerry told angry Republicans at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that verbatim transcripts of FBI interviews with all the survivors had “in an unprecedented way” been made available to Congress, along with 25,000 other documents and security camera footage of the attack.
In his congressional debut as secretary of state, Mr. Kerry promised to work with Rep. Edward R. Royce, California Republican and committee chairman, “to have a review of anything you don’t think you’ve gotten that you’re supposed to get.”
“I will appoint somebody to work directly with you, starting tomorrow,” Mr. Kerry said.
His promises did not mollify some critics, and a head of steam is building behind a call from Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, for a Watergate-type investigative committee to look afresh at the attack and the U.S. response to it.
Mr. Wolf said Wednesday that 110 members of the House were backing his resolution urging Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, to appoint the special committee. He spoke at a press event with Charles Woods, father of Tyrone Woods, a former Navy SEAL who was working in Benghazi as a security contractor for the CIA.
Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed on the roof of a CIA annex near the U.S. diplomatic post. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and State Department official Sean Smith were killed several hours earlier, when heavily armed extremists overran the post and set it ablaze.
“While home over Easter, members clearly heard from their constituents because nearly 50 [had signed on to the resolution] in the last week alone,” the congressman said. The relatives and lawmakers “along with the American public want to know why no one came to the rescue.”
Defense officials have said no military units were close enough to respond.
Mr. Woods, a retired lawyer and administrative judge who lives in Hawaii, told reporters that the special committee is needed so that lawmakers could “subpoena the witnesses who have firsthand knowledge of what happened.”
“We don’t want newspaper reports; we want the people who were on the ground,” he said.
“Part of their code of honor is they never leave anyone behind,” he said of former Navy SEALs like his son and others who fought to defend the CIA building.
The criminal investigation into the attack has made little progress. The FBI, which didn’t arrive at the attack site until a month after the incident, has been working with Libyan authorities, whose weak central government is challenged continually by well-armed militias in some regions.
The only suspect identified in the attack — Ali Harzi, a 26-year-old Tunisian national — was released in January by Tunisian authorities, who cited a lack of evidence.
Groups seeking more information about the assault have said government officials have required survivors to sign nondisclosure agreements about their accounts.
Mr. Woods is not alone in his skepticism about the official account of the attack, rendered in a long series of hearings and briefings for lawmakers and in both the secret and unclassified versions of a report written by a State Department investigative panel called an Accountability Review Board.
“We think that there was a cover-up of some kind of wrongdoing that led this administration to lie to the American people about the nature of the attack immediately after the attack, and for a week after that attack,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, told Mr. Kerry at the hearing.
After pledging to work with the chairman, Mr. Kerry told Mr. Rohrbacher: “Let’s find out exactly, together, what happened, because we [have] got a lot more important things to move on to and get done.”
Part of the problem, the hearing revealed, is that officials and lawmakers sometimes have different definitions of cooperation.
Mr. Kerry, for instance, asserted that he had seen video from security cameras on the buildings and surveillance drones overhead while he was a senator.
“Video of the actual event has been made available to members to see,” he said. He made similar points about the transcripts of the FBI interviews with survivors and the names of those evacuated.
“I have to just disagree for a minute,” said Mr. Royce. “Instead of handing over copies of the documents and records that we’ve requested, as has always been customary practice in the past, the department has insisted that the committee staff sift through thousands of pages of materials in a room in which they are monitored by the department, and they can’t remove any or make electronic copies of those documents.”
He noted that the documents are unclassified.
Other lawmakers wanted to know about the four low-level officials identified but not named in the report as having failed to show leadership as threats to the post in Benghazi mounted and the security situation in the city deteriorated.
The failures the four exhibited, the review board found, were not sufficient to fire them outright, and they remain on the payroll.
Mr. Kerry said he is “waiting for [an imminent] report to come to me which will give me a full indication of what my options are under the law following those [personnel] rules.”
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