The State Department is defending its investigation of the Sept. 11, 2012 attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, against a new report from House Republicans calling into question the department’s actions, including those of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The interim progress report was put together by members from the Armed Services, Judiciary, Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight and Government Reform committees, and is being distributed to House GOP members.
The Interim Benghazi Progress Report’s conclusions directly call into question the culpability of the State Department and contradict the State Department’s own internal investigation conducted by an Accountability Review Board.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters on Wednesday that the department disputes the report’s findings.
“They are not consistent with what we believe in terms of our transparency and the work that we’ve done, so we don’t agree with their conclusions,” said Ventrell.
The interim progress report claimed that security requests for the consulate were sent to the highest levels of the State Department and were subsequently denied. The report found that there was one memo signed by former Secretary Clinton in April of last year that denied a request for additional security by the then-U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz. The finding contradicted Secretary Clinton’s testimony before Congress in January of this year, before she stepped down from her post.
“The specific security requests pertaining to Benghazi, you know, were handled by the security professionals in the department,” testified Clinton. “I didn’t see those requests. They didn’t come to me. I didn’t approve them. I didn’t deny them.”
The progress report’s authors did not provide a copy of the memo for review.
The report also cited email exchanges between senior State and White House officials that it claimed showed the motivation behind changing intelligence talking points immediately following the attack was to protect the State Department’s reputation, rather than protecting classified information or the FBI investigation, which both the intelligence community and the State Department have stated.
“Email exchanges during the interagency process do not reveal any concern with protecting classified information. Additionally, the [FBI] itself approved a version of the talking points with significantly more information about the attacks and previous threats than the version that the State Department requested,” the report said. ”Thus, the claim that the State Department’s edits were made solely to protect that investigation is not credible.”
Ventrell maintains that the State Department has exhibited an “unprecedented level” of transparency and cooperation with Congress in investigating the Benghazi attack.
“There’s been eight hearings, there have been 20 briefings, and as … the House Republicans noted in this report, there have been 25,000 pages of documentation which we’ve handed over to them in response to their requests,” said Ventrell. “We’ve provided all this information and we’ve continued to be transparent.”
House Democratic members from the committees with the Republicans responsible for the report issued a letter criticizing the investigation process and called the findings partisan, undermining the report’s credibility. No Democratic members were invited to take part in the process.
“Although staff reports may be appropriate in some circumstances, we do not believe a partisan staff report should be used in this case, which involves the death of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans and is based on sensitive and classified national security information,” said the letter.