(CNSNews.com) – The State Department Thursday reined in expectations that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will share with lawmakers the findings of an inquiry into the Sept. 11 terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland could not confirm that Clinton would give testimony on Capitol Hill next Thursday – even though the chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee have both issued advisories to that effect.
Nuland told a press briefing that to her knowledge the Accountability Review Board (ARB) has yet to complete its work.
“I don’t have any dates – any schedule of the secretary’s to announce here,” she said. “It’s dependent upon events between now and then.”
Moreover, when asked whether Clinton in fact intends to share the ARB’s report with Congress, Nuland replied, “I don’t have anything to announce one way or the other on that.”
“The ARB’s responsibility is to brief the secretary. The secretary has said that she will be transparent and open with Congress. I don’t have anything further to announce.”
Under law an ARB must be convened in cases of loss of life, serious injury or significant destruction of property at U.S. missions abroad. After the Benghazi consulate attack, which resulted in the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, Clinton in early October set up a board under former ambassador Thomas Pickering, assisted by retired former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen and others.
Late last month Clinton told reporters that when the ARB’s work was completed “we intend to make the results of their investigation publicly [sic], and at that time I will be able to address all of these issues” relating to the Benghazi attack.
She is not required by law, however, to share the actual report with Congress – only its recommendations and any actions taken in response to them.
Under the statute governing ARBs, findings are submitted to the secretary of state, “together with recommendations as appropriate to improve the security and efficiency of any program or operation which the Board has reviewed.”
The secretary then has 90 days in which to report to Congress “on each such recommendation and the action taken with respect to that recommendation,” it says.
Nuland on Thursday noted the 90-day provision, but added that Clinton “obviously will intend to consult with them far earlier than that, as she’s committed.”
The announcement of the ARB, published in the Federal Register on October 4, said the aim was “to examine the facts and circumstances of the attacks and to report findings and recommendations as it deems appropriate.”
“Within the timeframe required by statute following receipt of the report [that is, 90 days], the Department will report to Congress on all recommendations made by the Board and any actions undertaken in response to those recommendations,” it stated.
Both Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) have announced that Clinton will testify next Thursday.
The Senate panel hearing, scheduled for 9 a.m. on December 20, is entitled “Benghazi: The Attack and the Lessons Learned.” The House committee hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. the same day, under the title “Benghazi Attack, Part II: The Report of the Accountability Review Board.”
Questions surrounding the Benghazi incident – whether security precautions were adequate, who and what was behind the attack, and the administration’s response – have stoked controversy over the months since.
The latest fallout was ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice’s decision Thursday to withdraw her name from consideration as secretary of state, after several Republican senators indicated they would not support her if nominated.
Rice had come under fire for saying on television five days after the attack that the incident, according to the best information available at the time, had been a “spontaneous reaction” to an online video mocking Mohammed, rather than a planned terrorist attack.
In a statement announcing next week’s hearing, Kerry – who is himself in contention for the secretary of state post – implied, as he has done before, that the GOP criticism has been politically-motivated.
“We ask our diplomats and development personnel to operate in some of the most dangerous places on the planet,” he said. “We owe it to them, and we owe it to the memory of Ambassador Chris Stevens and his three fellow Americans who lost their lives in Benghazi to get past the politics and focus on the substance of what happened and what it tells us about diplomatic security going forward.”