Under pressure from senators, the State Department is allowing some lawmakers to look at cables and other documents related to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, but only today and tomorrow, when most senators are not in Washington.
Congress is gearing up for a full week of Benghazi-related hearings next week, including a Nov. 13 hearing behind closed doors of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Chairman John Kerry (D-MA). Kerry has written two letters to the State Department requesting congressional access to information and documents related to the circumstances leading up to and during the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens. Several sensitive documents have already been leaked to congressional offices and the media, so the State Department has decided to let some senators view Benghazi documents but not take them home.
"We are currently in the process of gathering and reviewing record responsive to Congressional requests. Our efforts have already identified a large volume of potentially responsive records that address the security situation leading up to the attack," State Department Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs David Adams wrote to Kerry on Nov. 2 in a letter obtained by The Cable.
"To facilitate your committee's work, we want to offer you and other members of the committee the opportunity to review these cables and memoranda. This set of material contains classified and other sensitive information... Mindful of these concerns, the Department is prepared to make copies of these documents available for the committee's in camera review."
One senior GOP Senate staffer told The Cable that State is only making the documents available for senators and committee staff to view today and tomorrow, which won't actually allow the members to prepare for the hearing. Staffers for committee members are also not allowed to see the material.
"Funny since no member is in town," the aide said. "The timing and limited access clearly demonstrates the administration cares more about playing politics with the tragedy than accepting responsibility."
Committee members Bob Corker (R-TN) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) sent Clinton a letter Nov. 2 asking that the documents be sent to the committee, not just made available for viewing on a limited basis.
"Over the past several weeks, cables, emails and other communications regarding the security situation in Benghazi prior to and since the attack on our consulate have been leaked to some Congressional offices and media outlets, resulting in conflicting reports in the press. We have also called for the official transmittal of these documents and are still awaiting your response," Corker and Isakson wrote. "On September 25, 2012 and again on October 3, 2012, we sent you letters requesting that all communications between the diplomatic mission in Libya and the State Department related to the security situation be transmitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee without delay. We respectfully ask for an update on the status of our requests for these documents."
UPDATE: Thursday afternoon, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) annouced the witness list for the Nov. 15 Benhgazi closed hearing at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The witnesses will be Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director David Petraeus, FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce,Under Secretary of State for Management Pat Kennedy,andNational Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen.
UPDATE #2: A spokesperson for Corker told The Cable that after Corker spoke directly with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the State Department agreed to allow staffers for Sens. James Risch (R-ID) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) view the documents while their bosses are out of town. Corker will be in Washington Friday and will view them himself as well, the spokesperson said.
Update #3: Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Philippe Reines writes in to contest the GOP aides' assertion that access to the documents was limited. "At the committee's request, the Department has made documents available to the committee professional staff and Members. Committee staff are here during recess, and we provided documents to them," he said. "In fact, Senators, and Committee staff, can review the materials whenever they want, and we have offered to bring the materials up to the committee as many times as Members and staff want, and when they want to review them. We've made this clear to the committee."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.