The Obama administration is not making documents or witnesses available regarding the role of the State Department and the CIA in the Benghazi affair, charged Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., as he opened a hearing Tuesday of the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the Benghazi committee ranking member, countered Gowdy in his opening statement, asserting once again that the investigation was a politically motivated partisan attempt by Republicans to embarrass the State Department under the management of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama.
“With eight months into this investigation, Republican and Democratic members of this committee have not interviewed a single witness together,” Cummings said. “We have learned from press accounts that Republican members of this committee have conducted at least five interviews with Obama administration officials without notifying us.”
Joel Rubin, deputy assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, promised the committee the State Department would provide all witnesses and documents requested.
But he stated there are two qualifications: The committee’s request must not harm the ongoing Justice Department investigation to prosecute the perpetrators of the Benghazi attack or compromise national security interests.
Under tough questioning by Gowdy, the panel chairman, Rubin insisted the State Department was cooperating fully, fending off the congressman’s suggestion the State Department cooperation with the select committee was moving at “glacial speed.”
Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., argued that “no legislative committee in the history of the world has gotten every document, questioned every witness, or answered every question.”
He charging that Gowdy’s rapid question, prosecutorial style reflected a partisan attempt to keep the Benghazi inquiry open, despite the State Department ARB investigation and repeated congressional hearings.
Smith took exception with Gowdy’s suggestion that the only witnesses questioned without the knowledge and invited participation of the Democratic members of the committee was perhaps “a person questioned after meeting them on an airplane.”
“What I just witnessed with Mr. Rubin with Mr. Gowdy’s questioning style suggesting the State Department is stonewalling is unfounded, since I am unaware of the State Department saying ‘no’ to any document request made by this committee,” Smith argued during his questioning time.
Smith further contended the pace of the committee was slow because the first document requests the House Select Committee made of the Obama administration came five months after the committee was created.
Under questioning by Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., Rubin admitted there was no “Benghazi group” responsible for assembling and redacting the 40,000 pages of relevant State Department documents requested by the committee.
“I just wanted to know if the State Department took getting to the truth about Benghazi seriously, and you just confirmed the State Department does not consider getting to the truth about Benghazi seriously enough to dedicate a group to fulfilling the select committee document requests,” Roby said.
“Why is so much time being spent redacting the documents before they are turned over?” Roby asked.
Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., charged that eight months after creating the committee, Republicans have “systematically robbed Democrats from meaningful participation,”
“Democrats have been excluded from posing questions to witnesses in closed sessions and we have been shut out from the internal deliberations of this committee,” she said. “The committee is no longer transparent as chairman Gowdy and the majority members pursue their ‘conspiracy theories’ of what happened at Benghazi.”
Peter Roskam, R-Ill., asked Rubin: “Do you think this is a frivolous, partisan investigation?”
Rubin replied: “I remember the morning Chris Stevens was killed, and he was a friend,” referring to the U.S. ambassador killed in the attack.
Roskam shot back: “I find it shocking you can’t give me a straight answer to a simple question. I thought that was an easy question and that you would assure us that you didn’t think this was a frivolous or partisan investigation.”
Roskam, in questioning Rubin, entered into the record an article Rubin wrote published by ThinkProgress.org.
Rubin wrote: “Instead of getting that support, their deaths are being used as a partisan attack on President Obama, part of a false narrative that the president failed them. What has failed them is our political system. Rather than supporting a serious, nonpartisan investigation into what took place and what went wrong, waiting to get all the facts out, conservatives are trying to affix blame for their deaths for political advantage.”
Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., asked Rubin: “Even though there have been eight previous investigations and two years since the incident, why is this committee still getting new, never seen before documents from the State Department. Why is that?”
Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., explained that the committee would not call witnesses until the State Department produced all requested documents, because “we probably will only get one chance to bring a witness before the committee and we want to have all relevant documents in hand when we do that.”
Under questioning by Pompeo, both Rubin and Neil Higgins, director of congressional affairs for the CIA, admitted the State Department and the CIA have received no witness or document requests to date form the Democratic members of the committee.
Two hours into hearing, it was the first time a question had been asked of Higgins.
Cummings commented to Rubin: “I couldn’t help but notice when you talked about your friend at the State Department, Chris Stevens, how emotional you became.
“In my 18 years in Congress, I know how tough it is when distrust wells up between Republicans and Democrats, the congressman said. “What have we really accomplished if we end up with Republicans saying this and Democrats saying that? One of the best things we did was to meet with the families, and it was painful, but the families asked us over and over again not to make this a political football.”
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, pressed Rubin but could not get a direct answer on whether documents, notes and interviews obtained by the State Department Accountability Review Board are among the 40,000 documents turned over to the House Select Committee.
“How can we tell if the ARB process was ‘independent’ as has been claimed, if the State Department will not turn over to the select committee all the documents the ARB examined or produced?” Jordan asked.
“The subpoena was a year and a half ago; I don’t know how you can claim you are proactive when we still do not have all the documents we have requested,” Jordan said, addressing Rubin.
“I don’t want to have another hearing about process,” Gowdy said, suggesting it was time for the majority to begin using subpoena powers to obtain the documents and the witnesses the committee wants.
“I want to have hearings on substance. There has not been a single week when the State Department and the CIA have not engaged in a selective release of documents. So, I am going to ratchet up the pressure. There are procedures available to us on the select committee that we have yet to use.”