Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrel Issa (R-CA) Tuesday afternoon to pledge the State Department's full cooperation with Congress in getting to the bottom of the Sept. 11 attack on the Benghazi consulate that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
"I appreciate that you and your committee are deeply interested in finding out what happened leading up to and during the attacks in Benghazi, and are looking for ways to prevent it from happening again. I share that commitment," Clinton wrote in the letter, obtained by The Cable. "Nobody will hold this department more accountable than we hold ourselves -- we served with Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Tyrone Woods."
Clinton said that the State Department's Accountability Review Board will begin work this week and the letter revealed the names of all five board members. In addition to former Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Pickering, who will lead the board, the other members will be former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen (ret.), Catherine Bertini, Hugh Turner, and Richard Shinnick.
Clinton asked Issa to withhold any final conclusions about the Benghazi attack until the review board finishes its work and reports to Congress, which could come as early as November or as late as early next year. She pledged to work with Issa's committee and asked him to submit any requests for information or witnesses at hearings to the State Department's Office of Legislative Affairs.
Clinton was responding to a Monday letter from Issa, first reported by The Daily Beast, claiming that committee had received information "from individuals with direct knowledge of the events in Libya" that the Sept. 11 attack was "the latest in a long line of attacks" on Western diplomatic assets in Benghazi.
The Benghazi consulate was attacked two other times in 2012, Issa wrote, including one previously disclosed bomb attack that shattered an outer wall of the compound in June and a newly disclosed incident where an attacker threw a bomb over the compound wall in April.
"It was clearly never, as Administration officials once insisted, the result of a popular protest," Issa wrote. "In addition, multiple U.S. federal government officials have confirmed to the committee that prior to the Sept. 11 attack, the U.S. mission in Libya made repeated requests for addition security in Benghazi. The mission in Libya, however, was denied these resources by officials in Washington."
Clinton did not address any of those claims in her response, except to say that she would provide those answers to Congress pending the results of the investigation.
In his letter, Issa said that the House Oversight Committee plans to hold a hearing on the security conditions at the consulate leading up to the attack and asked for State Department officials to attend.
State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters at Tuesday's briefing that State would provide witnesses, but the Clinton letter made no promises to that effect. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones was in Tripoli today to meet with Libyan officials and urge cooperation in the investigation.
"We want to get to the bottom of precisely what happened and learn any lessons that we need to learn from it. We're taking this very, very seriously," Nuland said. "I think it's fair to say that we are still working through what we have in this building in terms of documentation, in terms of information about what we knew, who knew it, when they knew it, and that's part of the process that we have to go through."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.