WASHINGTON — Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., slipped in the question of the hour during the middle of a heated back and forth on State Department security practices, on the first day of a select committee’s hearings on the attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi.

He asked, “What policy were we pursuing in Libya that was so great we overlooked all the (security) trip wires and risks?”

The State Department spokesman answered, as he had repeatedly throughout the hearing, that he didn’t know because, “I was not there.”

This time, however, Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Greg Starr added he thought it was because American diplomats did not want to lose the confidence of the people of Libya.

After the hearing, WND asked Gowdy if he expected anyone would ever give him a substantive answer to his question.

He emphatically said yes, he fully expected to get that answer, eventually.

However, as a hint of a sly grin crossed his face, he added, “Maybe it wasn’t fair to ask these guys.”

Gowdy will get many more chances to ask that question, now that the hearings are officially underway, looking into the attack on Sept, 11, 2012 that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

On the first day of hearings, both Democrats and Republicans criticized the State Department for the security changes it still has not made since the attack.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, unleashed a scathing critique of the State Department’s reaction to the attacks on Benghazi.

He blasted “the arrogance of the State Department” for ignoring the top recommendations of a board set up to make security recommendations after the attack.

The top recommendation, by the Independent Panel on Best Practices, was the creation of an undersecretary for diplomatic security.

That position was meant to put responsibility and accountability for the security of overseas posts on one person. Jordan noted it had been called for years ago by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright after the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in East Africa.

Jordan called it the one thing “everything else hinges on” to save lives, and wondered aloud “what’s it going to take” to implement the top recommendations made to save lives.

The congressman made his remarks while questioning Todd Keil, who spent 23 years as a special agent with State Department security and was a member of the Best Practices panel.

Keil testified, even after Benghazi, the State Department still lacks a risk management process.

“If a place is not safe, leave,” he summed-up.

While questioning Keil, Jordan established:

  • The State Department refused numerous requests for additional security support at the Benghazi facility made by the Ambassador Stevens and others.
  • Instead, the State Department actually reduced the number of security forces in Benghazi.
  • The State Department also ignored its own safety standards in the months before the attack on Benghazi
  • And, the State Department did not follow its own procedure to exempt the Benghazi mission from the safety standards required for all overseas facilities.

“Now’s the time, clear the smoke, remove the mirrors, institute some real meaningful and progressive change,” Keil implored, saying all the recommendations ring hollow without follow up actions.

Emphatically agreeing with that assessment, Jordan added, “They didn’t listen to the guys on the ground who put their lives on the line. They didn’t follow their own standards that were developed in 1983 after the Beirut embassy bombing. They didn’t follow the waiver process to deviate from those standards. And now they’re not following the Best Practices panel’s number one recommendation.”

“The Ranking Member in his opening remarks said this is a transformational moment. Well, somebody better tell the State Department that.”

On this first day of the Select Committee on Benghazi, both Democrats and Republicans grilled the State Department’s representative over security at diplomatic outposts at Benghazi and elsewhere.

To GOP questions about specific security lapses before, and during, the attack on Benghazi, Starr repeatedly answered he didn’t know because he wasn’t there.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., tried to counter that tactic by saying Starr must have read the reports of that day, and asked him what measures had been taken as the security situation at Benghazi increasingly worsened in the weeks prior to the attack, including an explosion that blew a hole in the wall of the mission.

Starr replied he presumed it was “the usual” precautions a regional security officer, or RSO, would take, such as trying to establish safe havens inside the facility and alerting the guards.

The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, R-Md., welcomed an assurance from Starr that the State Department was in the process of implementing all 29 recommendations from the Accountability Review Board, or ARB, after Benghazi.

But even the Democrat grew irritated with the State Department representative over the slow pace of implementing recommended security changes, demanding “definite timetables so we can hold somebody accountable.”

Cummings said he promised the father of Ty Woods, one of the four Americans killed in the attack, he would make it safer for those stationed abroad.

The congressman recommended that chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., even hold a separate hearing on the progress, or lack of progress, made implementing recommendations.

Jordan also severely questioned the integrity and independence of the ARB report, noting the board failed to interview either former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or her then-chief of staff, Cheryl Mills.

In fact, Jordan noted, Mills was actually getting tipped off as to what was in the report, and effectively got to vet it, before it’s release.

Mills was also a key figure in a bombshell revelation made Monday by investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson revelation on Monday, when a former State Department diplomat told her two members of the former Secretary of State’s inner circle supervised the removal of damaging documents from those turned over to the ARB.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told Fox News one of those was aides was Mills and the other was Clinton’s Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan, who had who previously worked on Clinton’s presidential campaign, and then Obama’s. (Mills  was also a former White House counsel who had defended President Bill Clinton during his impeachment trial.)

Former Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell told Attkisson the removal of select documents happened in a basement at the State Department on a weekend. Maxwell was in the department charged with collecting documents and emails for the board looking into Benghazi, but was not invited to the session. He heard about it and decided to check it out.

He said he was told they were pulling out any documents that might put anybody on the “seventh floor” in a bad light. He said “seventh floor” was shorthand for Clinton and her advisers.

Maxwell said he became a scapegoat when put on administrative leave after Benghazi. He was never charged with any violations and eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.

He said, when he complained about being put on leave while facing no formal accusations, a State Department ombudsman told him, ‘You are taking this all too personally, Raymond. It is not about you,’ ” Maxwell recalls.

He said she told him, “It’s not about you; it’s about Hillary and 2016.”

Last week, former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy told WND he thought Benghazi was President Obama’s worst scandal, and an impeachable offense, because of a dereliction of duty that cost four American lives, including Ambassador Stevens.

McCarthy was not alone in his assessment of the gravity of the scandal.

On the two-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told an Oklahoma radio station he believed the Obama administration’s Benghazi cover-up would become the biggest scandal in U.S. history.

Find out what the White House and Hillary Clinton don’t want you to know in “The REAL Benghazi,” autographed by bestselling author Aaron Klein

McCarthy is a New York Times bestselling author, Fox News analyst, contributing editor at National Review and a former adviser to the deputy secretary of defense. As chief assistant U.S. attorney in New York, he successfully prosecuted the perpetrators of the first World Trade Center bombing.

Former Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York Andrew C. McCarthy

Former Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York Andrew C. McCarthy

He put the case against the administration’s handling of Benghazi in terms that are clear and simple but also comprehensive, and in a way the jury in the court of public opinion may find compelling.

He told WND, “To me, the most offensive of the president’s derelictions involves Benghazi,” which, he said, goes back to the war on Libya when, “the president really initiated, unprovoked, a war on a regime that was then being represented by our government as a key American counter-terrorism ally.”

That error was compounded, McCarthy stated, because the administration “switched sides” in a way that inevitably empowered the jihadis in Eastern Libya, about whom Gadhafi was actually giving the U.S. intelligence.

“They follow up that with a really shocking failure to provide security for Americans who, for some reason, still not explained, are assigned to Benghazi, which is one of the most dangerous places on the planet for Americans,” he observed.

Following that, McCarthy noted, as the jihadis continued to hit Western targets and other countries removed their diplomatic personnel, “we not only leave our people in, but we reduce security. That, inevitably, leads to the September 11, 2012, attack, which is an act of war in which our ambassador is killed. ”

“The enemy, who we are at war with already, attacks an American installation and the administration responds to that with this ridiculous story about how it was generated by an anti-Muslim video under circumstances where it’s clear that they knew it was a terrorist attack.”

Inhofe emphatically drove that point home, saying four key members of the administration – former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, CIA Director John Brennan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey and National Intelligence Director James Clapper – had said the proof that the attack on the consulate was a planned, terrorist operation was “unequivocal.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.

“All four of them used the word ‘unequivocal,'” the senator insisted. “It was unequivocal, on that day we knew that it was an organized, terrorist attack.”

“Dereliction of duty is one of the more profound impeachable offenses,” McCarthy told WND.

The former federal prosecutor used both his legal acumen and knowledge of history to explain why that was the case.

“There’s a common misconception that ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ means criminal offenses like we find in the penal code, like I used to have to try to enforce when I was a federal prosecutor,” he said.

“But, what the framers meant by high crimes and misdemeanors, which was a British term of art, was gross maladministration of the government. And it entails not only things which would be indictable offenses, but a broad range of things.

“It’s actually much more like military justice concept where dereliction of duty, failure to follow an oath, and the like, are pretty straight-forward impeachable offenses. I think it’s unfortunate that people think a president has to be indictable before he is removable.”

McCarthy detailed that contention in his recent book, “Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.”

In an interview last week, he told WND there is no question about Obama’ lawlessness. But, as he outlines in the book, it is not feasible to impeach the president without public support.

President Obama blames the Benghazi attack on an anti-Islamic video while addressing the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 25, 2012

President Obama blames the Benghazi attack on an anti-Muslim video while addressing the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 25, 2012

That public support might grow with an increasing stream of new revelations about Benghazi, as, even two years after the attack, evidence is quickly mounting to support McCarthy’s assertion there was a dereliction of duty.

Just two weeks ago, three survivors of the Benghazi attack, members of a security team at the secret CIA annex, told Fox News a top CIA official prevented them from responding to the attack at the compound, a mile away, even though they were getting calls from State Department employees begging for help.

Thirty minutes later, the team defied orders and went to the compound, but it was too late.

They believed the delay cost the lives of Ambassador Stevens and U.S. Foreign Service officer Sean Smith.

The team members said they also requested air support, but it never arrived.

Additionally, the government watchdog group Judicial Watch has just revealed it has obtained documents it said show the State Department was warned nearly three months before the attack the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi was not only unsafe, it was likely a death trap.

Using a Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, lawsuit to obtain the documents, Judicial Watch said it found top State Department officials were explicitly warned that security guards were abandoning their posts “out of fear of their safety.”

Furthermore, the groups said the documents also warned that an explosion outside the compound wall had “created a fear factor when it came to working the night shift.”

U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, killed in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012

U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, killed in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012

The documents showed Department of State Contract Specialist Neal Kern was warned that the number of local security guards leaving their posts had put the U.S. Benghazi Mission at risk.

Judicial Watch noted that two months before the attack Ambassador Stevens himself requested more help but the request was refused by both the Departments of State and Defense.

The group also pointed out how Chris Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, told the Wall Street Journal almost two years ago how security personnel had dropped from 30 in July 2012 to only 11 diplomatic security agents under Steven’s authority on the night of the attack.

Judicial Watch also said “additional emails confirmed that in the months leading up to the terrorist attack, State Department officials were repeatedly informed of the Benghazi security staffing problems.”

It also found “the State Department’s local militia ‘security’ feared for their own safety and wouldn’t even show up to provide necessary protection.”

Accusations of State Department responsibility for the deaths at Benghazi, and dereliction of duty on the part of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, were detailed last week with the release of investigative journalist Aaron Klein’s new work from WND Books, “The REAL Benghazi Story: What the White House Doesn’t Want You to Know.”

Klein said Clinton misled the public about her role in helping to secure the U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi and may have even deceived lawmakers during her public testimony probing the attacks.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton replying "What difference does it make?" when asked what caused the attack on Benghazi by a Senate committee Jan. 23, 2013

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton replying “What difference does it make?” when asked by a Senate committee on Jan. 23, 2013 what caused the attack on Benghazi

The author asked: “[By signing the waivers,] did Clinton know she was approving a woefully unprotected compound? If not then at the very least she is guilty of dereliction of duty and the diplomatic equivalent of criminal negligence.”

Also said to be revealed in the book:

  • Clinton, together with then-CIA Director David H. Petraeus, were the architects of a plan to arm the Libyan and Syrian rebels.
  • Public sources in a systematic connect-the-dots exercise indicate both the U.S. mission and the nearby CIA annex in Benghazi were involved in coordinating U.S. aid transfers to rebels in the Middle East, with particular emphasis on shipping weapons to jihadis fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
  • The compound itself was deliberately set up with minimal security so as not to attract attention to what the author reports were secretive activities taking place inside the mission, activities for which Clinton herself was a central player.
  • Clinton’s claim that the intelligence community believed the attacks were a spontaneous protest in response to a “hateful video” is called into question by numerous revelations.
  • Clinton placed the blame for the controversial talking points squarely with the CIA without mentioning the State Department contributed to the manufacturing of the points.
  • Clinton wrongly wrote that the closest U.S. Special Forces that could have responded to the attacks were “standing by in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, but they would take several hours to muster and were more than five thousand miles away.”
  • Klein notes it has been confirmed Special Forces known as C-110, or the EUCOM CIF, were on a training mission in Croatia the night of the attack. The distance between Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, and Benghazi is about 925 miles. The C-110 is a rapid-response team that exists for emergencies like terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies abroad.
  • Clinton’s assertion “no one in the State Department, the intelligence community, any other agency, ever recommended that we close Benghazi. We were clear-eyed about the threats and the dangers as they were developing in eastern Libya and in Benghazi” was contradicted by her top deputies, including officials known to be close to her who were responsible for some major denials of security at the compound, such as Undersecretary Patrick Kennedy, who cancelled the use in Tripoli of a DC-3 aircraft that could have aided in the evacuation of the Benghazi victims.
  • Kennedy also denied permission to build guard towers at the Benghazi mission and approved the withdrawal of a security support team, or SST, that special U.S. forces specifically maintained for counter-attacks on U.S. embassies or threats against diplomatic personnel.
  • Clinton’s contention she was not informed of the general nature of security at the Benghazi facility, even though she was known to have taken a particular interest in the compound.
  • Clinton reportedly called for the compound to be converted into a permanent mission before a scheduled trip to Libya in December 2012 that eventually was canceled.
  • Clinton failed to mention Stevens may have gone to Benghazi for a project that she specifically requested, what Hicks called Clinton’s wish to convert the shanty complex into a permanent mission in a symbol of the new Libya, so she could announce the establishment of a permanent U.S. State Department facility during her planned visit there in December 2012.

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