Raising the stakes in the high-profile clash with congressional Republicans over last year’s terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, a person familiar with the State Department-chartered inquiry said investigators talked last year with CIA personnel who were on the ground during the attack and were briefed about the CIA’s activities at their secret base in the Libyan city.
The quality of the administration’s internal review — and its access for key participants involved in the incident — is a key point of contention as the House of Representatives gears up for a hearing next week on the Obama administration’s handling of the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack in which U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
The accountability review board “interviewed everyone that was there who played a role in the events such that their account was needed to answer the questions they had,” said the source familiar with the review, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, has promised bombshells at the hearing, which he says will “expose new facts and details that the Obama administration has tried to suppress.”
The hearing was announced as a Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called on the upper chamber to supplement the House hearings to resolve remaining questions about the Benghazi incident.
“I strongly urge the Senate to hold new hearings on Benghazi” to get testimony from “people who were on the ground in Libya during the attacks,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who clashed memorably in January with Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time. He added that he was “shocked” by press reports that survivors of the attack or other whistleblowers might have been intimidated by more senior officials within the Obama administration to keep silent.
Mr. Issa has publicly accused the State Department of trying to muzzle potential Benghazi witnesses by denying their attorneys clearances to discuss classified information, leading to speculation that his hearing will feature testimony from one or more whistleblowers. His office did not return phone calls or emails requesting comment.
Lawyers Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing, who say they are trying to represent Benghazi witnesses who want to testify publicly about what they know, on Thursday repeated claims that access to their clients was being inhibited by pressure from unidentified administration officials. Mr. diGenova said on Fox News that the hurdles he faced amounted to a “cover-up” and that the Accountability Review Board failed to interview key witnesses for its report, starting with Mrs. Clinton.
But the person familiar with the investigation by the accountability review board, which published a 40-page report last year, insisted that the board already interviewed 100 witnesses, including all the CIA and State Department personnel involved in the defense of the diplomatic post and of the secret CIA base known as the annex a few miles away.
They also had access to transcripts of all the FBI interviews of those and other witnesses.
“The unclassified report is the best account of the events as they unfolded,” he said, adding that, although the inquiry also issued a longer classified report, its conclusions were the same.
The classified version “amplifies and extends the account the Board gave [in the published version] but doesn’t in any way change the conclusions it came to,” said the person, who had access to both versions.
But neither version of the report has been able to satisfy Republican lawmakers in the House, who have maintained a steady barrage of pressure about what they say are unanswered questions concerning the attack, and the U.S. response during and after the seven-hour assault.
State Department officials say they have provided hours of testimony, including by two secretaries of state; and thousands of pages of documents, including — in an unprecedented move — the same FBI interview transcripts that the inquiry saw.