House committee hearing on Benghazi attack opens on partisan note
WASHINGTON -- A hearing on the deadly September 2012 attack on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, began with sharp exchanges Wednesday morning when the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform accused the Republican chairman of making baseless assertions about a potential military response that have been refuted by top generals.
“What we have seen over the past two weeks is a full-scale media campaign that is not designed to investigate what happened in a responsible and bipartisan way, but rather … unfounded accusations to smear public officials,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland). “I am not questioning the motives of our witnesses. I am questioning the motives of those who want to use their statements for political purposes.”
Cummings challenged recent statements of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who chairs the committee and has asserted that the military could have done more to respond to the attack on the U.S. mission in Eastern Libya that killed four Americans on Sept. 11.
Cummings noted that top military officials, including Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have said there was no feasible military option that could have been deployed in time. An independent review concluded that the U.S. response “was timely and appropriate, but there simply was not enough time for armed U.S. military assets to have made a difference.” It found “no evidence of any undue delays in decision making or denial of support from Washington or from the military combatant commanders.”
“Chairman Issa has accused the administration of intentionally withholding military assets which could have helped saved lives on the night of the attacks, I say, for political reasons,” Cummings said. “Of all the irresponsible allegations leveled over the past two weeks, this is the most troubling. And based on what our military commanders have told us, this allegation is simply untrue.”
Issa did not respond, but moved to opening statements of the three State Department officials, none of whom initially shed light on the question of any possible military option that wasn’t considered. In his opening statement, Issa complained that the co-leaders of the accountability review board, Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen, former Joint Chiefs chairman, refused to meet with him.
The pair has previously issued a statement rebutting allegations that they had engaged in a cover-up. “We had unfettered access to everyone and everything including all the documentation we needed,” the statement said. “Our marching orders were to get to the bottom of what happened, and that’s what we did.”
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