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Republican lawmaker on Benghazi outpost: ‘Why were we there?’

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on Wednesday ripped the State Department for not adequately explaining why the department maintained the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, which was attacked in 2012.

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“The number one question I get … is, ‘Why were we there?’ Why were we there?’ ” Jordan asked during a hearing by the House Select Committee on Benghazi looking into the attack that left four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, dead.

Jordan grilled Greg Starr, the State Department’s assistant secretary for diplomatic security, asking if the agency’s physical standards for the facility had been followed and if a special waiver allowing such a deviation was filed, as is required.

Starr said that in neither case was the procedure followed, adding that "no one did so intentionally," a claim the Ohio lawmaker disputed.

Jordan also asked Starr why the facility had a special “temporary” label in its name, noting that the designation is not used for any of the 285 State Department locations around the globe today.

“What was so important to be in Benghazi?” Jordan asked. “What was so important we created a term out of thin air?”

At that point, Starr referred the lawmaker to State Department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB) findings, which came up with a set of lessons learned from the attacks, noting he was serving at the United Nations at the time of the assault.

Jordan replied that hundreds of attacks had occurred in Libya in the months leading up to the attack on the diplomatic facility, labeling the situation on the ground “chaotic,” adding that the government in power at the time was called the National Transitional Council.

That name “doesn’t scream stability,” he said.

Starr said he doesn’t deny that a “tragedy occurred” but added that “I’m not the witness” to address the time before the attack.

Jordan then inquired why the State Department did not implement an ARB recommendation to boost Starr’s position to the undersecretary level, potentially giving it more heft.

“Why don’t you want to move from the kids’ table to the adult table?” he asked.

Starr said that he has the “control I need to fulfill” his duties and has regular access to upper-level officials, including Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryUN: Emission reduction plans 'fall far short' Climate change rears its ugly head, but Biden steps up to fight it Recapturing the spirit of Bretton Woods MORE.

“I remember at Thanksgiving, it was easier to make an argument from the adults’ table rather than the kids’ table,” Jordan replied.

The panel’s chairman, Rep. Trey GowdyTrey GowdyPompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy The Hunter Biden problem won't go away Sunday shows preview: Joe Biden wins the 2020 election MORE (R-S.C.), said questions over the U.S. presence in the African country are being asked with "alarming frequency in our districts."

He noted that the need for a diplomatic post "may" have outweighed the threat of violence ripping through the country, but added that the committee needs better answers from the administration so they can judge why so many protocols were skipped over.

Gowdy asked Starr whom the panel should speak to about the policy of having the outpost there.

Starr suggested that lawmakers contact Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson, who was the U.S. ambassador to Egypt at the time.

"Do you understand why we would have that question?" Gowdy asked.

"I think that’s a reasonable question, sir," Starr replied.

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Gowdy said he is not worried that security restrictions would hamstring foreign policy operations abroad.

“Am I concerned about providing … safety and security for our diplomats may cause problems in other places? What would be a higher priority than providing for their safety and security? What policy is so important that I should minimize that one in advance of another one?" he asked.

Gowdy suggested the panel's next hearing would look into why the State Department continued to operate in Libya despite the violence.

Gowdy said that while he "should be among the last people to comment" on the U.S. diplomatic presence around the world, he noted that Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Divided House on full display Nearly 5,000 National Guard troops to stay in DC over concerns of potential violence in March MORE (D-Wash.) participated in Wednesday's hearing by phone.

"The notion that you have to have a physical presence in all instances? My judgment? Not since Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreAl Jazeera launching conservative media platform Exclusive 'Lucky' excerpt: Vow of Black woman on Supreme Court was Biden turning point Paris Agreement: Biden's chance to restore international standing MORE invented the Internet you don’t need to," according to Gowdy.

--This report was updated at 1:20 p.m.