Congress gangs up over Libya

Everyone in Congress seems to want a bite at the Libya apple.

Lawmakers have launched a half-dozen probes, scheduled numerous hearings and sent dozens of letters to the Obama administration asking for information on the attack at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.

ADVERTISEMENT
The administration also is undertaking its own investigation into the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi where four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed.

In Congress, lawmakers from the Armed Services, Homeland Security, Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees have all asked for information from the Obama administration over the attacks. Most are Republicans, but some Democrats, such as Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), are also involved.

The widespread interest from Congress highlights the complex nature of the attack, as well as problems with the Obama administration’s shifting response.


But some Democrats have criticized congressional Republicans for probing the issue from so many fronts, saying that portions of their efforts are being duplicated by the other committees.

An ally of the administration, who would only speak on background, said the sheer number of investigations on Capitol Hill has hampered Congress from conducting an effective probe of the issue and increased the risk of sensitive documents leaking to the press, because they could be passed between committees with lax oversight of who controls the information.

The ally and a Democratic congressional aide accused Republicans of playing politics, saying that the FBI and State Department investigations of the attack currently underway will answer many of the GOP questions.

“It’s an endless parade of Republican attempts to politicize the attack in Benghazi,” said the Democratic aide. “They’re prejudging an investigation the administration is conducting right now into what actually happened.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lamented that there was “a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking” on the Libya attack during a Pentagon news conference Thursday.

Republicans respond that they are aggressively investigating because the Obama administration has not been forthcoming about what happened in Libya.

They’ve accused the administration of conducting a cover-up after the attack, trying to downplay the terrorist element in the assault and instead blaming it on an anti-Islamic video.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the Speaker’s office has kept in close touch with the chairmen and staff on the House panels, helping them to coordinate their various requests for information and the particular focuses of their probes.

“The Speaker’s office has helped coordinate efforts in regard to Libya, but in general our committees have a history and a lot of experience in working together and coordinating their efforts,” said Kevin Smith, communications director for Boehner.

“We have not seen an issue of duplication of effort, but it helps, given the complex and intertwined nature of the issues, for them to coordinate and we are pleased they have done so,” said Smith. He added that there is no concern about sensitive documents being leaked as a result of the four ongoing House probes.

Eight committee panel heads sent a joint letter to the White House in late September asking for information about the intelligence leading up to the attack and the administration’s response.

Boehner joined the GOP criticism on Libya this week as he sent a letter to President Obama demanding the administration explain its shifting story and whether it had given enough attention to calls for more security in Libya.

“The American public is increasingly reading information contradicting early accounts by your administration of the causes of the events of the day,” Boehner’s letter states.

The Libya attack has been a major part of the presidential campaign in the past month, although Mitt Romney has backed off criticizing Obama over the attack after the second debate, leaving much of the criticism to originate from lawmakers.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was the first Republican to announce plans to probe the events leading up to the attack, with the powerful chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee holding a rare recess hearing earlier this month.

Issa’s panel heard from three State Department witnesses and one from the Army, who were involved in diplomatic and security operations before the attack, though they weren’t actually in Libya at the time.

The panel revealed that numerous requests from officials in Benghazi for more security had been denied, but — as one witness testified — a bolstered security force would not have done much to thwart the attack, because it was so powerful.

Democrats have tried to coordinate their response to Republican criticisms as well, with some communication between the White House and Capitol Hill. But mostly the ranking Democrat on Issa’s panel, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), has taken the lead, blasting the committee chairman for conducting an irresponsible partisan investigation.

Issa has repeatedly hammered the administration about how much officials knew before and after the attack. But the brunt of that particular angle of the investigation has been taken up by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Rogers has reviewed a plethora of sensitive security cables sent between U.S. officials in the states and in Libya both before and after the attack, and is pressing for Obama to publicly set the record straight on what his administration knew and what he plans to do about any future communication breakdowns.

“It is really important we get to the bottom of this and send a very clear message,” said Rogers in an interview with Fox News on Friday.

“It is confusing now [and] the information is flying over the transom to both my committee and I know the Government Oversight Committee. Professional intelligence officials and diplomats are coming forward and saying, ‘Hey, this is not right. We’ve got to get this right.’”

Feinstein’s Senate Intelligence Committee is planning to hold a closed hearing on Nov. 15 with top intelligence officials expected to testify.

Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Ct.) held the first hearing on the incident in September, and he announced an investigation earlier this month.

The chairmen of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committee have requested information from the Pentagon and State Department, respectively, but have so far not scheduled any hearings.

House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) complained in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that State “has declined repeated requests by our Committee for hearings.”

An Armed Services Committee aide said that letters from Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) to three senior military officials have yet to receive a response since they were sent last week.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has not requested information yet on the attack, but his ranking member Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has sent letters to several administration officials.