OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: House holds charged Benghazi hearing

Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) blasted the administration and Democrats for not cooperating with the committee’s investigation, while Democrats accused Republicans of a politically motivated investigation.

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House Republicans say they’ve uncovered new evidence that suggests the Obama administration could have done more to help the U.S. diplomats under attack last Sept. 11. But that allegation, which has been made by Hicks, was not raised in the first half of questions to the panel’s witnesses.

They have also criticized the administration for the “talking points” that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice gave in the days after the attack, blaming it on a protest and not a terrorist attack.

“I was stunned, my jaw dropped and I was embarrassed,” Hicks said of Rice’s comments.

Democrats are accusing Republicans of seeking to damage the reputation of Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of State at the time of the attack and could be a presidential contender in 2016.

“They’re trying to bring her numbers down. That’s what this is all about,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a senior Democrat on the Oversight and Foreign Affairs panels, told The Hill.

Defense denies McKeon Benghazi files: As Hicks laid out in stark detail his blow-by-blow account of the Benghazi raid, another House lawmaker claimed the Pentagon was stonewalling his efforts to find out what happened that night in Libya.

Pentagon officials denied a request from House Armed Services Committee chief Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) 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," McKeon said in a statement Wednesday.

In April, McKeon asked for all classified information that went into the Department of Defense assessment of its response to the attack, which resulted the death of four Americans.

While the department 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, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs Elizabeth King said in a May 1 letter denying McKeon's request. 

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 Hicks's testimony that U.S. special forces were blocked from responding to the attack, 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.

Durbin signals skepticism of base closures: Add Senate Defense Appropriations Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) to the list of obstacles the Pentagon has to getting a new round of base closures.

Durbin expressed a healthy dose of skepticism at Wednesday’s Air Force hearing toward accepting the Pentagon’s request for more base closures, as he questioned how much savings they actually achieve.

The chamber's majority whip joins a long list of lawmakers who have indicated they are opposed to a new round of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), which was included in the Pentagon’s 2014 budget request.

“Base closure commissions are supposed to take the politicians out of the process. I think they’ve replaced politicians with other politicians,” Durbin told Air Force leaders Wednesday. “I’ve watched five base closure commissions. I want to see actual savings — start to finish — when you’re closing a base.”

Durbin also talked at the hearing about the importance of Scott Air Force Base, which is located in his home state.

One of the primary reasons the Pentagon has struggled to win approval from Congress is that closing bases means someone’s district or state is taking a big economic hit.

The Pentagon argues that it has excess infrastructure already and needs to save money by closing unneeded facilities.

Senate GOP slams littoral combat ship: Senate Republicans on Wednesday took direct aim at the crown jewel of the Navy's future combat fleet, doubting whether the warship was ready for combat. 

Worries over the rising costs of the littoral combat ship (LCS), combined with the vessel's lackluster performance during early testing, has pushed lawmakers to question whether the Navy should abandon the warship altogether. 

"We need to fix it, or find something else. Quickly," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Navy leaders on Wednesday during a Senate Armed Services Seapower subcommittee hearing. 

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) pressed Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley and Vice Adm. Allen Myers, the service's head of capabilities and resources integration, on the recent problems aboard the ship, given its checkered testing and acquisition past.

Wednesday's round of questioning was fueled by recent reports that after spending billions to get the LCS ready for war, the vessel is still falling short of expectations.  

Service leaders found severe gaps "between ship capabilities and the missions the Navy will need LCS to execute," according to a confidential Navy report issued last year.

But Navy leaders have already addressed a number of the issues brought up in the report and are working to get other fixes implemented quickly, a top service official said Wednesday. 

The report "provided some good insights" into what needed to be changed aboard the ship, Navy Staff Director and head of the LCS Council Vice Adm. Richard Hunt told reporters. 

"We are pretty confident we have fixed [some] issues and discounted others" raised in the review, Hunt said. 

"People [continue] to poke at issues that are old," Hunt added. "Right now, I feel comfortable in executing [the LCS] mission." 


In Case You Missed It:

— Report: DOD over-relies on foreign parts

— NATO probing Afghanistan misconduct charges

— Pentagon: No plans to limit religious freedom

— Durbin: Problems with ICBM officers ‘troubling’

— GOP chairman denied Benghazi files


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