Kerry Pledges to ‘Leave No Stone Unturned’ on Benghazi Culpability

Patrick Goodenough | May 10, 2013 | 4:53am EDT
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Secretary of State John Kerry holds a joint press conference with Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino, not pictured, at the end of their official meeting at the Foreign Ministry, in Rome on Thursday, May 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

( – Amid potentially damaging new revelations about the State Department’s early assessments regarding attribution for the Benghazi consulate attack, Secretary of State John Kerry pledged Thursday that if any disciplinary action is found to be necessary, he will ensure it happens.

“I am absolutely determined that this issue will be answered, will be put to bed, and if there’s any culpability in any area that is appropriate to be handled in some way with some discipline, it will be appropriately handled,” he told reporters in Rome as he wrapped up a four-day foreign trip.

“But that judgment awaits me in a report that will be forthcoming, and I’m confident that any recent evidence will be a component of that consideration.”

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Responding to questions about claims made during Wednesday’s congressional hearing on Benghazi, Kerry said, “The State Department will leave no stone unturned.”

“I’ve already made it crystal clear to the chairmen of the relevant [congressional] committees that I have assigned my chief of staff, David Wade, to be responsible for liaisoning with them to answer any questions that they have.”

Kerry said he had only “seen the most cursory headlines” about the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing and said he would need to get back to the U.S. before he could “catch up to the full measure of what took place.”

Democratic lawmakers and administration officials are characterizing the hearing as a politically-motivated rehash. But among information revealed publicly for the first time on Wednesday was an email appearing to challenge directly the administration’s defense of its early claims about responsibility for the deadly September 11, 2012 attack.

Addressed to senior State Department officials including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills, the email from acting assistant secretary of state for the Near East Beth Jones – sent one day after the attack – makes clear that Islamic terrorists, not Muslims angered by an amateur online video satirizing Mohammed, were being blamed.

“I spoke to the Libyan ambassador and emphasized importance of Libyan leaders continuing to make strong statements,” Jones wrote in the email. “When he said his government suspected that former Gaddafi regime elements carried out the attacks, I told him that the group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al-Shari’a, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists.”

Yet four days after Jones sent that email, the administration put forward ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice to tell the Sept. 16 Sunday talk shows that the attack, according to the best information currently available, was a “spontaneous reaction” to the video clip. (She told ABC’s This Week it was “a direct result of a heinous and offensive video.”)

Some of the Jones email dated Sept. 12 was read out during Wednesday’s hearing by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who noted that it was one of a number of unclassified emails that had not been previously released.

Administration officials repeatedly have stated that they have cooperated fully with Congress over the Benghazi issue. The attack cost the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith and Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

Questioning foreign service officer Gregory Hicks, who was the number two official at the embassy in Libya at the time of the attack – and was one of the recipients of the Jones email – Gowdy asked: “Why in the world would Susan Rice go on five Sunday talk shows and perpetuate a demonstratively false narrative?”

“I cannot provide an answer, but perhaps you should ask Ambassador Rice,” replied Hicks.

“I would love the opportunity to do just that,” Gowdy said.

House Speaker John Boehner told a press briefing on Capitol Hill Thursday there would be more hearings on Benghazi, accusing the White House of doing “everything possible to block access to the information that would outline the truth.”

He called on the administration to produce previously-unreleased unclassified emails, including the one sent by Jones on Sept. 12.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told a briefing soon after Boehner spoke that the department was “following up with the House directly” regarding the request for emails.

Ambassador Rice’s comments

On Sept. 14, three days after the attack, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a press briefing that that there would be no further comment on Benghazi until the Justice Department, investigating the incident, was ready to talk about it.

Yet just two days later Rice – who holds a Cabinet-level position and falls under the State Department – was put forward to talk about the issue.

The White House decision to send Rice out to promote the video theory fed Republican suspicion of a cover-up, possibly designed to downplay the terror threat at a sensitive time in the election campaign.

On the Monday after Rice’s television appearances Nuland was asked about her comments.

“Ambassador Rice, in her comments on every network over the weekend, was very clear, very precise, about what our initial assessment of what happened is. And this was not just her assessment. It was also an assessment that you’ve heard in comments coming from the intelligence community, in comments coming from the White House.”

When it was pointed out that that assessment contradicted Libyan president’s contemporaneous assertions that it was a premeditated terror attack, Nuland repeated, “the comments that Ambassador Rice made accurately reflect our government’s initial assessment.”

Asked whether she stood by “this notion that there was, in fact, an ongoing demonstration” at the consulate, Nuland replied, “I’d simply say that I don’t have any information beyond what Ambassador Rice shared with you and that her assessment does reflect our initial assessment as a government.”

According to Gowdy, Nuland was herself among the recipients of the Sept. 12 Jones email.

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