By Carlo Muñoz - 05/08/13 04:29 PM EDT
Pentagon officials have denied a request from a House Republican chairman for access to documents on last year’s terrorist attack in Benghazi.
"I am deeply disappointed in the Department’s response and am committed to continuing the Armed Services Committee's oversight into the tragedy at Benghazi," House Armed Services Committee chief Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said in a statement Wednesday.
"The department has made every effort to provide the committee a comprehensive understanding of [its] actions" in Benghazi, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs Elizabeth King said in a May 1 letter to McKeon and Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.).
Congressional Republicans have prodded the Obama administration for more details since White House officials admitted the Benghazi strike was a planned, coordinated assault by Islamic militants in the country.
While the DOD did issue an unclassified timeline about the attack, it did not produce any classified timeline or report on Benghazi that could be provided to lawmakers, according to King.
The only work Pentagon officials did was prepare "draft working documents" for military and intelligence officials to brief lawmakers on the attack and subsequent American response.
"By practice, such draft working documents are not distributed beyond DOD," King wrote.
But since King's response, whistleblowers have come forward to say that U.S. commanders blocked American special forces units from heading to Benghazi to help repel the attack.
Just as U.S. troops were about to depart for Benghazi, officials from Special Operations Command-Africa ordered the units to stand down, Gregory Hicks, the former top U.S. diplomat in Benghazi, told congressional investigators on Wednesday.
His testimony contradicts previous testimony by State, Pentagon and U.S. intelligence officials who said all security assets inside the country were deployed to Benghazi that night.
DOD Press Secretary George Little defended the military commander's decision to prevent U.S. special operations forces from going into Benghazi.
"The fact remains, as we have repeatedly indicated, that U.S. military forces could not have arrived in time to mount a rescue of those Americans who were killed and injured that night," he told The Hill on Wednesday.
Once the four-man U.S. special operations unit arrived in Tripoli, the mission in Benghazi had shifted from defending the consulate to evacuating the wounded and dead, according to Little.
That shift prompted Special Operations Command-Africa to issue the stand down order, he said.
"There is no evidence that this four-man team could possibly have arrived in Benghazi to assist during the attacks," Little said, adding the group in Tripoli "performed superbly."
The new allegations about the special forces, combined with the Pentagon's refusal to hand over information tied to Benghazi, drew a sharp response from McKeon.
The Pentagon's policy on withholding draft documents on Benghazi is "equally insufficient and unacceptable," according to McKeon.
"The Department has been generally cooperative with this committee in getting to the bottom of what went wrong in Benghazi ... [but] that does not mean that the process now comes to an end, or that the wealth of potential information has been exhausted," the California Republican wrote.
— This story was updated at 1:42 p.m. with statements from the Pentagon.