- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ahead of the House Select Committee on Benghazi’s highly-anticipated first public hearing Wednesday, Democrats offered some of their own answers to questions surrounding the terrorist attack while Republicans urged them not to prejudge the investigation before it starts.

The jockeying follows months of behind-the-scenes work that will culminate in an open airing of how well the State Department has done in implementing its own internal review panel’s recommendations for fixing the kinds of problems that led to the attack, which cost the lives of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat and the panel’s ranking member, said Tuesday a newly-launched online clearinghouse with information about the attack and subsequent response is meant to help the committee avoid duplicative efforts from a handful of other congressional investigations and contradict false claims.

He pointed to a conclusion from the State Department’s review panel that inadequate security on the night of the attack arose from “systemic failures in leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels” within the department as evidence that Democrats are working to get all the facts in the public sphere, even if they’re critical.

“The point is that these questions have been investigated and answered and now you can see exactly what the answers are,” he said.



But Republicans say there are still plenty of unanswered questions. A committee spokesman on Tuesday said Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican and the committee’s chairman, is committed to conducting a thorough and impartial investigation.

“Chairman Gowdy sincerely hopes that all sides will not prejudge the outcome of the investigation — before even the Committee’s first hearing, which is on a topic suggested by the Democrats — and instead allow a constructive and thorough investigatory process that produces a final report on Benghazi that is beyond any doubt,” said spokesman Jamal Ware.

Mr. Gowdy, for his part, appears to have taken stock of the politically-charged nature of the subject matter and largely avoided the media spotlight over the summer as the committee was busy staffing up.

Democrats have repeatedly dismissed the panel as unnecessary, while Republicans — including House Speaker John A. Boehner — say the White House’s unwillingness to cooperate with congressional inquiries warranted further investigation.

On Wednesday, members will hear from Gregory B. Starr, the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, who told a Senate panel last year that more resources would have helped strengthen embassy security but would not have necessarily prevented the attack.

Another scheduled witness is Mark J. Sullivan, former director of the United States Secret Service and the chairman of the Independent Panel on Best Practices, an outgrowth of the review board’s recommendations.

Mr. Sullivan told a House panel last September that a more formalized risk management system for the State Department as a whole could be useful — but also conceded there will always be threats in such high-risk areas.

Todd Keil, a former official in the Homeland Security Department and a member of the best practices panel, is also scheduled to appear.

Some in the GOP have also demanded more answers about the role then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a likely 2016 presidential contender, played in the department’s initial response and what she knew about since-debunked talking points from the White House that initially blamed the attack on a spontaneous protest arising from an anti-Muslim video.

The State Department was forced to push back this week on a report from a former State Department employee of an effort to separate out information potentially unflattering to Mrs. Clinton’s office before documents were handed over to the investigative panel, officially known as the Accountability Review Board.

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