The White House denied Wednesday that State Department officials are muzzling would-be whistleblowers about last year’s terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi by blocking security clearances for their attorneys.
“These allegations are part of an unfortunate pattern of spreading misinformation and politicizing this issue,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and former U.S. prosecutor Victoria Toensing have separately leveled charges that the State Department is blocking clearances for attorneys for potential whistleblowers, who may want someone to help represent them before Congress or help shield them from retaliation afterward because of their testimony.
Mr. Carney said neither the State Department nor the Pentagon had received any requests from lawyers representing anyone tied to the Sept. 11 Benghazi attacks, which killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, State Department officer Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
The attacks and the administration’s response to them became a heated issue in the presidential election, and they continue to provoke Republican allegations of a cover-up.
“So what you have is an attorney saying she represents somebody, claiming that she’s not getting this security clearance, and yet the agencies involved have no information about that at all,” said Mr. Carney, apparently referring to Ms. Toensing, who aired her charges on Fox News.
Ms. Toensing did not return several requests for comment Wednesday.
In a letter Wednesday to Mr. Issa, Thomas B. Gibbons, assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, said: “The Department routinely considers written requests for a security clearance for an employee’s private attorney which is necessary to ensure proper legal representation.”
Mr. Gibbons added that the State Department has not received any such requests.
“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,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, the FBI released on its website Wednesday the first photos from surveillance footage of the attacks, saying that three men shown in the photographs are wanted for questioning.
“We are seeking information about three individuals who were on the grounds of the U.S. special mission when it was attacked,” the FBI said. “These individuals may be able to provide information to help in the investigation.”
The FBI, which is investigating the attacks with Libyan authorities, asks that anyone with information email BenghaziTips@ic.fbi.gov or offer information confidentially at forms.fbi.gov/benghazi.
The State Department letter was a response to Mr. Issa’s charges last month that the department appeared to be intentionally making it difficult for private lawyers to get security clearances to represent officials seeking to provide information about the Benghazi attacks to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
The issue arises because two of the four U.S. deaths and an unknown number of the injuries during the attack occurred at a building a couple of miles from the diplomatic compound, which was overrun and set ablaze in the first phase of the attack.