By Julian Pecquet - 04/29/13 07:17 PM EDT
The State Department on Monday defended its decision not to have lower-level employees testify before Congress about last year's attack in Benghazi, Libya.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is pushing ahead with his investigation of the terrorist assault, and has asked for legal protections for lower-level employees who might be called to testify.
The State Department pushed back on Monday and said the independent probe into the attack "should be enough" for lawmakers.
“We think that we've done an independent investigation, that it's been transparent, thorough, credible, and detailed, and that we've shared those findings with the U.S. Congress,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said. “And that should be enough.”
“The standard practice, going back for a very long time, is that there are senior officers who are willing to testify on behalf of this department about our operations,” he said. “We don't sort of have people at the operational level necessarily as witnesses who are testifying.”
“The bottom line is that congressional testimony is at the deputy assistant secretary level and above. And just as you wouldn't have necessarily a soldier or troops called as witnesses, you have their superior officers. That's the same practice for the State Department.”
Ventrell defended Congress's “prerogatives” to investigate allegations of wrongdoing. He then went on to criticize — without naming them — the “many folks who are, in a political manner, trying to sort of use this for their own political means, or ends.”
Issa counters that State Department employees have approached his committee about their concerns with the events leading up to the attack and its aftermath. His committee and four others last week released a 46-page report — lambasted by Democrats — that accuses Clinton of approving lax security and seeking to hide her department's responsibility in talking points shared with the public after the attack.
“The Department is interfering with its employees' right to communicate with Congress,” Issa wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday. “To date, the State Department has not even taken [the] modest step to assure whistleblowers that they will not face retaliation from the department.”
— This article was corrected at 4:49 to reflect that Rep. Issa has sought legal protections for lower-level State Department employees.