House Democrats accuse Issa of playing politics with secret trip to Libya

A Democratic memo accuses Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) of trying to hide a fact-finding trip to Libya from Democrats.

The trip was used to gather evidence for a politically charged hearing the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold Wednesday on security lapses at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the memo said.

U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three others were killed in a terrorist attack on the consulate last month.

The memo, written by Democratic committee staff and obtained by The Hill, said Issa and other Republicans gave Democrats less than 24 hours notice of the trip and did not identify any potential interview subjects. Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzChaffetz knocks Sessions: He's 'the attorney general in name only' Chaplain controversy shifts spotlight to rising GOP star Ingraham’s ratings spike a wake-up for advertisers MORE (R-Utah), the chairman of the subpanel on national security, was the only committee member to take part in the congressional delegation.

The memo said the trip’s itinerary “listed as the sole Committee activity in Libya: TBD.”

The secretive trip, the Democratic staff memo says, is proof that Issa is looking to score political points by holding the hearing less than a month before Election Day while the investigation is still going on.

“The Chairman and his staff failed to consult with Democratic Members prior to issuing public letters with unverified allegations, concealed witnesses and refused to make one hearing witness available to Democratic staff, withheld documents obtained by the Committee during the investigation, and effectively excluded Democratic Committee Members from joining a poorly-planned congressional delegation to Libya,” the memo said.

Issa has said he is “pursuing this on a bipartisan basis.”

The 17-page memo lays out how the hearing was quickly put together after Issa’s panel interviewed a State Department staffer last week who said he was denied additional security when he was stationed in Tripoli.

“Issa did not consult with [ranking member Elijah] Cummings [(D-Md.)] or any Democratic Committee Members before publicizing some of the unverified allegations obtained by the committee during that interview,” the memo states. “Instead, he rushed to send a public letter to the State Department within hours of the interview” with State Department Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom.

Chaffetz told The Hill that he found out at the last minute that he was cleared for the visit to Libya and said Democrats declined to take part.

"Even I got less than 24 hours notice that we were going," he said. "I dropped everything to make it happen, [Democrats] chose not to."

"The State Department flew out an attorney to follow me around everywhere I went. The Democrats had no representation, they didn't have a member of Congress who thought it was important enough to go."

But the Democratic memo said Chaffetz had asked for clearance to go from the Department of Defense last Monday, four days before getting the green light. Only then did Democrats find out that a trip was even in the works, the memo says. 

"This appears to be a deliberate effort to exclude Democratic Committee Members from this delegation," the memo said.

The memo also criticizes Issa for refusing to let Democrats interview the head of the 16-member special forces team that provided embassy protection but was pulled out of Libya in August. Lt. Col. Andy Wood has said publicly that Stevens wanted his team to stay in the country but was turned down by the State Department.

The memo also hits Republicans for passing two spending bills that slashed funding for embassy security after they took over the House in the 2010 elections. The House cut the two State Department accounts for “Worldwide Security Protection” and “Embassy Security, Construction and Maintenance” by a total of $459 million in 2011 and 2012 below the Obama administration's funding request, the memo says, but the Democratic-controlled Senate was able to reinstate $88.25 million — still $370.7 million lower than what the administration wanted.

Molly K. Hooper contributed.

— This story was updated at 3:53 p.m.