By Julian Pecquet - 04/30/13 03:24 PM EDT
President Obama said Tuesday he was “not familiar” with reports that State Department employees are being blocked from testifying about last year's terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, and its aftermath.
“I'm not familiar with this notion that anybody's been blocked from testifying,” Obama said during a White House press conference.
At least four State Department and CIA officials have retained lawyers or are in the process of doing so in order to testify, according to a Fox News report.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry last week demanding that the employees be given legal protections as he prepares to renew his panel's investigation into the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
In his letter to Kerry, Issa said the State Department has not responded to his request that lawyers for potential whistleblowers be given the security clearances they need to review classified documents and other evidence to better represent their clients.
“The Department is interfering with its employees' right to communicate with Congress,” Issa wrote. “To date, the State Department has not even taken [the] modest step to assure whistleblowers that they will not face retaliation from the department.”
The State Department on Monday defended its decision not to have lower-level employees testify.
“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,” spokesman Patrick Ventrell said. “We don't sort of have people at the operational level necessarily as witnesses who are testifying.”
“Congress has its own prerogatives, but we’ve had a very thorough, independent investigation which we completed and were transparent and shared," Ventrell added. "There are many folks who are in a political manner trying to sort of use this for their own political means or ends, and that’s why we’ve been clear that we did our investigation.”