Reports of Benghazi whistle-blowers rekindle calls for select committee

Republicans are renewing their demand that Congress create a select committee to probe last year's terror attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, following reports that at least four State Department and CIA employees are seeking whistle-blower protections.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) say reports that employees are being prevented from testifying validate their call for a select committee, an idea that has been endorsed by more than half the Republican Conference in the House over leadership's objections. The State Department says it has no knowledge of anyone seeking to testify and denies intimidating anyone.

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“Revelations about witnesses being afraid to testify and military assets that could have been deployed in a timely fashion justify appointing a joint select committee,” the senators said Tuesday. “In light of these new revelations, it is imperative that we learn everything we can from what happened before, during and after the attacks. We cannot allow those who serve our nation to feel abandoned when under attack, or by Congress afterwards.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday there's “an enormous amount of misinformation out there” about the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans and the administration's response.

“We have to demythologize this issue, and certainly depoliticize it,” he said. “The American people deserve answers. I’m determined that this will be an accountable and open State Department, as it has been in the past, and we will continue to do that, and we will provide answers.”

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wrote to Kerry last week demanding that the State Department give security clearance to lawyers for potential whistle-blowers so they can examine classified cables and other information. Issa said he hasn't heard anything back.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Tuesday the department has no knowledge of any potential whistle-blowers, despite reports that at least four of them have retained or sought to retain counsel. President Obama likewise said he was "not familiar" with the allegations during his press conference Tuesday.

“We're not aware of any employees who have requested clearance for private attorneys, security clearances for private attorneys in connection with Benghazi,” Ventrell said. “In the event of such request, the department has a security clearance process in place, under which clearances can be provided to private attorneys who are representing individual employees of this building.”

He said the department was “deeply committed to meeting its obligation to protect employees, and the State Department would never tolerate or sanction retaliation against whistle-blowers on any issue, including this one. 

“That's an obligation we take very seriously, full stop,” he said. “In fact, the department regularly sends notices, as we do to our entire staff, to employees advising of their right to federal whistle-blower protections. We do so annually. And, in fact, I checked, and we did so just last week, which is our routine process in the spring to send an update like that.”