The Cable

Dems allege improprieties in GOP Benghazi investigation

Darrel Issa (R-CA), the committee chairman leading House Republicans' investigation into the Obama administration's handling of the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, has concealed witnesses, withheld documents, publicly aired unconfirmed allegations, and excluded Democrats from a hastily planned trip to Libya last weekend, according to his colleagues across the aisle.

"Although Chairman Issa has claimed publicly that ‘we are pursuing this on a bipartisan basis,' the Committee's investigation into the attack in Benghazi has been extremely partisan," reads a memo circulated today by the Democratic staff of the committee and obtained by The Cable. "The Chairman and his staff failed to consult with Democratic Members prior to issuing public letters with unverified allegations, concealed witnesses and refused to make one hearing witness available to Democratic staff, withheld documents obtained by the Committee during the investigation, and effectively excluded Democratic Committee Members from joining a poorly-planned congressional delegation to Libya."

On Wednesday, Issa, who heads the House Oversight Committee, will hold his much-anticipated hearing on the administration's actions leading up to and following the attack that cost the lives of Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The hearing, entitled, "The Security Failures of Benghazi," will feature testimony from Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs Charlene Lamb, Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom, who was stationed in Libya before the attacks, and Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guardsman who was leading a security team in Libya until August.

The hearing follows up on an Oct. 2 letter from Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the chairman of the national security subcommittee, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in which Issa said the 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.

That letter was based on testimony from Nordstrom, according to the memo, who told the committee that the State Department had ignored two cables he send requesting more security. Nordstrom blamed the allegedly low security staffing in Benghazi on Lamb, whom he claims said that only three security agents were needed because there was a "safe haven" nearby. But Issa and Chaffetz sent their letter to Clinton less than 12 hours after interviewing Nordstrom, who was not in Libya at the time of the attack, the memo alleges.

"[Nordstrom's] statements were not confirmed before the letter was sent, and the State Department was not given an opportunity to respond before the allegations were made public," the memo said.

Wood spelled out his allegations in a series of interviews this week, including one with CBS News, in which he alleged that the State Department had declined his request to maintain a "Site Security Team," in Libya past August. But Issa concealed the majority staff's conversations with Wood from the Democratic side of the committee until Oct. 5, the same day he appeared on CBS, according to the memo.

"Chairman Issa has refused multiple requests to make Lt. Col. Wood available to speak with Democratic Members or staff prior to the hearing on Wednesday. In addition, although Republican staff provided an email address for Lt. Col. Wood after he appeared on CBS Evening News, Lt. Col. Wood has failed to respond to any inquiries from Democratic staff," the memo states.

Issa and Chaffetz also effectively excluded Democratic committee members and staff from joining a congressional delegation to Libya last weekend by concealing the trip until less than 24 hours before it was scheduled to leave, the memo charges.

"Republican staff did not inform the minority until last Thursday that a delegation would be departing the next day, Friday, October 5, 2012, for Tripoli. Due to this inadequate notice, no Democratic Members or staff were able to join," the memo says. "Based on a copy of the itinerary provided to the minority staff, it also appears that this delegation was hastily and inadequately planned. The itinerary did not identify a single U.S. government official, Libyan official, or other individual the Committee planned to interview during the entire delegation. In fact, the itinerary listed as the sole Committee activity in Libya: ‘TBD.'"

The memo also criticizes Mitt Romney and several congressional Republicans for taking issue with the statements of Obama administration officials in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attack, especially the Sept. 16 statements by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, in which she said that the assessment at that time was that the attack was spontaneous and inspired by an anti-Islam video.

"The State Department has been cooperating fully with the Committee's investigation. It has agreed to all requests for hearing witnesses, it has offered additional hearing witnesses beyond those requested, it has promptly organized transcribed interviews with Department officials, it has been collecting documents sought by the Committee, and it has offered additional briefings for Committee staff," the memo states, although it notes that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) excluded Oversight Committee leaders from a classified briefing on the issue Tuesday.

"Contrary to House Rules, the Chairman and his staff refused to provide copies of documents obtained by the Committee during this investigation and concealed witnesses, preventing the minority from questioning these witnesses directly in order to gain a more complete understanding of their views and to vet the accuracy of claims made by Chairman Issa," the memo states.

The memo also argues that it was the House GOP that slashed funding for State Department security and embassy protections prior to the attack.

The House passed appropriations bills that cut $248 million from the administration's request for the Worldwide Security Protection account in fiscal 2011 and 2012, and $211 million from the Worldwide Security Upgrades portion of the Embassy Security, Construction and Maintenance (ESCM) account in those years.

The final amounts given to both accounts after the Senate weighed in were $88 million above the House levels, but still $371 million below what the administration requested. 

"Since gaining the majority in 2011, House Republicans have voted to reduce embassy security funding by approximately half a billion dollars below the amounts requested by the Obama Administration," the memo states.

Last week, committee ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings (D-MD) expressed concern that partisanship was overtaking the investigation.

"While I fully support careful, responsible, and robust congressional oversight, I do have concerns about rushing to hold a public hearing based on incomplete information if the purpose is to meet some arbitrary political timetable. On such a critically important issue, I believe we should proceed in a bipartisan and responsible manner by gathering the facts before drawing any public conclusions," he said.

A spokesman for Issa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Cable

State Department gets new executive secretary

Starting next week, former Ambassador to Georgia John Bass will take up his new post as executive secretary of the State Department, a crucial high-level position.

Bass, who was replaced in Tbilisi by Richard Norlund last month, is a senior member of the Foreign Service and had been the envoy to Georgia since 2009. Before that, he spent three years as director of the State Department Operations Center, which will aid him in his new role because one of the many duties of the executive secretary is to manage the crisis centers that are stood up in emergencies such as the spate of embassy attacks in the Middle East last month.

The executive secretary, with the help of four deputies, serves as the liaison and the clearinghouse between the State Department's many bureaus and the leadership offices of the secretary, the deputy secretaries, and the undersecretary for policy. The executive secretary's office also manages relations between State and the White House, the NSC, and the other cabinet-level agencies.

From 2004-2005, Bass was a special advisor on Europe and Eurasia to Vice President Dick Cheney, a role similar to the one played by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland during the George W. Bush administration. His overseas assignments have included stints in Italy, Chad, and Belgium, and he was chief of staff to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott during the negotiations to end the war in Kosovo.

In 2008, just before becoming ambassador to Georgia, Bass led a provincial reconstruction team in Iraq.

Bass replaces Stephen Mull, who was nominated in July and confirmed in September to be the U.S. ambassador to Poland. In a note to colleagues this week, Mull said he will go to Warsaw next month after brushing up on his Polish language skills.

"This weekend, I finish up as Executive Secretary to prepare for my assignment to Poland.  But before moving on, I wanted to thank you all for your great collegiality and support over the past couple years that we've worked together.  It's been an honor to be on your team through the good times and the bad - from Wikileaks, QDDR and the Arab Spring through our transitions in Iraq and Afghanistan and the horrific tragedy in Benghazi last month - and I'll miss working with you under Secretary Clinton's leadership," Mull said.

"Ambassador John Bass will begin work as the new Executive Secretary next week, and I know you'll find him to be an extraordinary leader and reliable colleague as we take on the inevitable new challenges that await the Department."