Panetta, Petraeus to address Benghazi Committee behind closed doors

Panetta, Petraeus to address Benghazi Committee behind closed doors
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Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and ex-CIA Director David Petraeus will be interviewed this week in a pair of closed-door sessions of the House’s Select Committee on Benghazi, the panel announced on Monday.

Petraeus will answer questions on Wednesday. Panetta, who also served as head of the CIA before taking the reins at the Pentagon, will appear before the committee on Friday.

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Committee Republicans have long denied allegations that they are bent on a purely political mission to smear former Secretary of State Hilllary Clinton, rather than being motivated by a desire for the facts surrounding the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Critics of the panel’s work have pointed to its months of vigorous questioning of State Department figures close to Clinton, rather than national security figures including Panetta and Petraeus. The two men’s presence before the panel comes more than 19 months after it was created by then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

A Republican committee spokesman on Monday appeared to blame the committee's prolonged efforts on the Obama administration, which opponents say has stonewalled its investiagtion. 

“While we are still waiting to receive crucial documents from the State Department and the CIA, and still waiting for important witnesses to be made available, the committee is diligently working to complete its thorough, fact-centered investigation and release a report with recommendations within the next few months,” spokesman Matt Wolking said in a statement.

“The American people and the families of the victims deserve to know the truth about what happened before, during and after the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attacks, and we must do everything we can to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.”

Democrats have opposed the existence of the special committee since it was created in 2014. Two GOP lawmakers and one former Republican committee staffer added fuel to the fire last year, by claiming that a core goal of the committee was to tear down Clinton’s presidential ambitions.

Committee Republicans have forcibly pushed back. GOP leaders faced tough pressure to unveil a smoking gun during Clinton’s marathon, 11-hour testimony in October, but failed to present damning evidence that she had fallen down on the job or severely misled the American public. 

In addition to Panetta and Petraeus, the committee will also interview Charlene Lamb, a former State Department official in charge of diplomatic security, and ex-Pentagon chief of staff Jeremy Bash. Those interviews, on Jan. 7 and 13, will also occur behind closed doors.

Bash has never been interviewed by any of the seven other congressional committees that have previously investigated the 2012 attack in Benghazi, the committee said. 

Of the 64 witnesses interviewed by the Benghazi panel last year, Wolking said, 53 had never been previously interviewed by Congress.