Committee on Benghazi: White House Overestimated Safety

Thursday, 17 Oct 2013 11:02 PM

By Cathy Burke

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A House subcommittee investigating the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist seige on America's diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, is zeroing in on a White House press release issued the day before the attack, Fox News reported Thursday.

House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations members are also aiming to review testimony from former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

The latest focus comes as staffers for the subcommittee said its preliminary report has determined no military forces could have been rallied to intervene when the seige was underway -- as the Obama administration has maintained -- because U.S. military assets were poorly positioned around the world.

“My job was to look at the days and the weeks and the months and the years leading up to that day, and ask the question: Why weren’t we prepared, and who is responsible?” said Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., chair of the HASC subcommittee.“If the White House is projecting that we were safe, the White House has to take responsibility of our lack of preparedness.”

The day before the Benghazi attacks, the office of White House spokesman Jay Carney issued a four-sentence press release stating President Obama had met with “key national security principals” to discuss “the steps taken to protect U.S. persons and facilities abroad…on the eve of the eleventh anniversary of September 11th.”

But General Carter Ham, then the commander of U.S. Africa Command, told House investigators he wasn't consulted as part of those meetings, Fox reported.

When a spokesperson for the National Security Council indicated the White House had dealt directly with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the subcommittee called the chairman to testify in a classified setting, Fox reported.

Committee staffers said Dempsey indicated last week the meetings had been routine, and fairly casual in nature, Fox reported.

The subcommitttee's preliminary conclusion set off a nasty exchange Thursday with Carney, who mocked the findings as a partisan attack on behalf of Republicans.

Carney said the GOP has been politicizing Benghazi, the Blaze reported.

“The ‘poor’ statement is a statement of an assessment made by Republicans, who have, as you know, attempted unfortunately to make this a partisan issue,” Carney said.

“I know we’re creating an exchange here for Fox, and I’m mindful of that. But allow me to suggest that questions about the posturing of defense forces are usually better addressed at the Pentagon.”

“First of all, what we are engaged in here is not for Fox, it’s for the record,” the Fox reporter James Rosen shot back.

Rosen went on to argue the fact that military posturing was poor on the night of the Benghazi attack is not just a Republican conclusion.

“With respect to these meetings that the president had with key national security principals the day before those attacks, how is it possible that you can maintain that adequate steps were taken visa vi force posture by the commander-in-chief and his aides when, in fact, posture is now universally acknowledged to have been such that it made remedy or rescue impossible,” the reporter pressed.

Carney admitted there was not “adequate security” on the night of Benghazi to protect the four Americans who died in the attack. “The president has been absolutely clear and forthright about that,” he added.

After another minute, Carney ended the nearly 10-minute exchange, saying: “I think we’re done here, James.”

Roby also indicated the panel will seek to question Panetta, the former Defense Secretary, to see what he can share regarding the security precautions alluded to in the White House document.

Panetta did not respond to a Fox request to discuss the issue.

Staffers for the subcommittee said the Pentagon has generally been “very cooperative” with the panel in making documents and witnesses available, and has not sought to “stonewall” their investigation.

But there was a lack of cooperation from the State Department on a probe by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, The Hill reported earlier this week
.
State Department officials routinely refused requests for documents on its investigation into the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, including interview transcripts and summaries of eyewitnesses to the attack, according to a committee report obtained by The Hill.

Additionally, members of the independent Accountability Review Board (ARB) who are reviewing the events that led up to the Benghazi attack were rife with "actual and perceived conflicts of interest" with State, the committee's report adds.

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