Republicans Ask Clinton to Answer Key Questions Left Unanswered on Benghazi

By Patrick Goodenough | January 30, 2013 | 4:23 AM EST

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, seen here at a March 2011 international conference on the Libya crisis in London, faces ongoing questions on the September 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. (AP File Photo)

( – With just three days to go before her last day at the State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to be dogged by questions about the deadly terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last fall.

In a letter sent late on Monday, three Republican House committee chairmen asked Clinton to provide documentation relating to security at the consulate, video footage of the September 11 attack, and other material, saying the recent Accountability Review Board (ARB) probe into the incident had left key questions unanswered.

Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) noted that the board had not questioned the department’s senior-most officials, including Clinton herself, Deputy Secretary William Burns and Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Thomas Nides.

They said they believed its failure to do so was “a critical omission from the ARB’s review of the facts leading up to the attack.”

Among questions still unanswered, the lawmakers wrote, were the reasons why Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy had apparently withdrawn a security support team (SST) from Libya, “despite multiple warnings from Ambassador Chris Stevens of a deteriorating security situation.”

“This was a key decision that detrimentally affected the security posture of U.S. diplomats in Libya prior to the attack,” Royce, Issa and Chaffetz said.

“Additionally, questions remain as to why the Department maintained an independent and isolated post in an increasingly volatile and dangerous city, and whether there are facilities in other countries facing similar circumstances.”

U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith and Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty died in the assault, during which heavily-armed militants attacked the consulate compound in Libya’s second city on the 11th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s attack on America.

The Tripoli-based SST, comprising 16 Special Forces troops, was commanded until August 14 last year by Army Lt. Col. Andrew Wood. He told a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in October that the State Department had decided not to extend the team’s security work beyond Aug. 5.

“The security in Benghazi was a struggle and remained a struggle throughout my time there,” Wood said in his testimony before the panel. “The situation remained uncertain and reports from some Libyans indicated it was getting worse. Diplomatic security remained weak. In April there was only one U.S. diplomatic security agent stationed there. The RSO [Regional Security Officer] struggled to obtain additional personnel there but was never able to attain the numbers he felt comfortable with.”

In their letter to Clinton, the GOP lawmakers said they believed the answers to some of the unanswered questions may lie in unclassified documents that were seen by the ARB but not divulged in its report or provided to congressional committees.

“These documents are essential for a thorough review that will aid congressional efforts to improve U.S. personnel and facility security overseas.”

They asked Clinton to provide, by no later than February 11:

--All documents, including emails and cables sent to and from her, Burns, Nides and Kennedy, and their staff, relating to security;

--A list of every individual questioned by the ARB, and documents relating to the interviews; and

--Video footage of the Benghazi attack.

‘Why didn’t you connect the dots?’

In a CNN interview Tuesday Clinton, whose last day in office is on Friday, was pressed again about Benghazi.

“You’ve answered a lot of questions, but there’s one in particular,” said foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty. “The signs were there. The British ambassador had been attacked. The walls of the embassy had been breached.

“Why didn’t you connect the dots, ask the question: Wasn’t it too dangerous for Chris Stevens, the ambassador, who was one of the most valuable people you had in that region?” Dougherty asked. “Why didn’t you ask those questions?”

“We were certainly aware of the increasing threat environment,” Clinton replied. “I not only was briefed on that, I testified to that effect. And there were constant evaluations going on. But no-one – not the ambassador, security professionals, the intelligence community – ever recommended closing that mission.

“And the reason they didn’t was because the ongoing threat environment had, up until the spring before our terrible attack in Benghazi, been a result of post-conflict conditions,” she said, referring to the 2011 war between rebels and the regime headed by the late Muammar Gaddafi.

“That is something that we’re familiar with all over the world,” Clinton continued. “Yes, there were some attacks, as you have said, but our evaluation of them and the recommendation by the security professionals was that those were all manageable, because we have a lot of that around the world. I mean, there is a long list of attacks that have been foiled, assassination plots that have been prevented. So this is not some one-off event. This is considered in an atmosphere of a lot of threats and dangers.

“And at the end of the day, there was a decision made that this would be evaluated but it [the mission] would not be closed,” she said. “And unfortunately, we know what happened.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow