- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The two-year, $7 million congressional probe into the Benghazi terrorist attack did more than produce an 800-page report, it also exposed how weak Congress has become in trying to investigate the executive branch.

Despite repeated subpoenas and official requests for interviews or documents, the committee said the State Department obfuscated, the Defense Department misled, the CIA stalled, and President Obama himself refused to cooperate, prolonging the congressional probe and leaving investigators without the information they needed.

Officials also repeatedly agreed to turn over information to Congress only if lawmakers treated it as classified, even though the administration had never made a formal determination that the information needed to be kept secret, the probe concluded.

And there was little Congress could do to press its case, said Republicans on the Select Committee on Benghazi, who said Capitol Hill should change the laws to punish officials who refuse to cooperate with official probes.

“The administration’s intentional failure to cooperate with this and other congressional investigations warrants changes in congressional rules and amendments to law in order to ensure the Executive Branch cooperates with congressional investigations and the American people know what their government does on their behalf and with their money,” the seven GOP committee members said in their draft report, released Tuesday.

All told, the committee issued five subpoenas for documents: Three of them went to the State Department, one went to the CIA, and one went to Mrs. Clinton. That’s in addition to repeated requests short of subpoenas.

Perhaps the most well-known back and forth involved Mrs. Clinton’s practice of using a secret email account for government business, effectively hiding her communications from public view — contrary to both federal law and department rules — for nearly six years.

Her secret email account, maintained on a server she kept at her home in New York, was only revealed because of the Benghazi Committee’s probe, Republicans said.

The White House said the committee probe was flawed from the start, and said previous congressional investigations had already plowed the same ground.

“We know there’s a very clear partisan audience that Republicans are trying to appeal to, but I think it’s pretty hard for any Republican or Democrat, for that matter, to make the case that useful additional information has been yielded in the context of the Benghazi committee’s yearslong probe of this particular situation,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.

A day earlier, the White House insisted its cooperation with the probe was “far-ranging,” with deputy press secretary Eric Schultz saying they produced 1,500 pages of documents themselves, in addition to tens of thousands of pages from agencies.

But Mr. Schultz said he would not detail Mr. Obama’s own activities the night of the attack, and again rejected having Mr. Obama answer written questions from the committee.

The Republicans on the committee said the stonewalling extended well beyond the White House, with one Pentagon official echoing Democratic complaints about the wasteful cost of trying to find one of the pilots operating a drone over the attack site that night. The probe says, far from being difficult, the Pentagon had already identified the pilot three years ago — so it should have been easy to bring him forward.

And the committee singled out the State Department for special criticism, saying it took repeated subpoenas and extensive negotiations to get information.

Part of the problem is that Congress must rely on the administration itself to enforce subpoenas through criminal contempt — creating a conflict of interest for a White House often intent on protecting itself from the congressional probe.

Congress does have the power to jail someone, but that hasn’t been used for more than 80 years, and lawmakers said they’re reluctant in today’s partisan atmosphere to recommend reinvigorating that power.

Instead, they said Congress should create an automatic trigger withholding part of the salary of any official who refuses to cooperate with a congressional subpoena.

And the draft report recommends changing the law so that when Congress recommends criminal contempt proceedings, it triggers the appointment of a special counsel to handle the case free from the partisan interests of the administration.

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