The Cable

Benghazi documents available to senators only when they are out of town

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."

The Cable

The Romney national security transition team that might have been

Before Mitt Romney lost his presidential bid Tuesday night to President Barack Obama, he had set up a multi-layered national security transition team with dozens of experts and former officials who were working to prepare for a Romney administration that will never come to be.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt was the overall head of "Project Readiness," the secretive transition planning effort run out of Washington, and former World Bank President Bob Zoellick was in charge of the national security substructure, which included teams to prepare for the transition of the National Security Council, the Defense Department, the State Department, USAID, the Homeland Security Department, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Brian Hook, former foreign-policy aide to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, was Zoellick's deputy in the effort and played a key role in organizing and directing the now-defunct national security transition structure.

Multiple former Romney foreign-policy advisors told The Cable that the national security agency transition teams were not direct indications of who might get what job in a future Romney administration and that they were separate from the transition project's personnel team, which would vet potential senior officials. The agency teams were meant to swoop in after the election, if Romney won, and prepare the national security bureaucracy for the changes President Romney wanted to impose.

"The project moved pretty well," Rich Williamson, the NSC transition team chair, told The Cable today. "Governor Leavitt did a good job of structurally organizing it. He set in course a process of identifying key issues and trying to develop 100-day plans so that if Romney became president he could start on day one to move the things he was committed to. It was further advanced than any other transition efforts I've seen."

Confidence in Romney's victory persisted until the last minute and the planning was extensive. In recent weeks, preparations included the drive to prepare drafts of agency transition plans and policy papers coordinated by interwoven task forces that focused on specific issues. The drafts were due Tuesday, the same day of the election, multiple former Romney foreign-policy advisors said.

"I feel quite comfortable with the analyses and options we teased out that the president elect would have had to begin to address," Williamson said. "Now we go into the loyal opposition and try to do our job raising concerns, improving the dialogue, and trying to influence how the president proceeds."

Had Romney won, Williamson would have been assisted by two NSC transition team co-chairs: former Navy Secretary William Ball and Harvard Professor Meghan O'Sullivan. The NSC "Team Leader," who led the day-to-day activities of the group under the direction of the chair and co-chairs was Foreign Policy Initiative Executive Director Jamie Fly.

The Pentagon transition team had three co-equal co-chairs: Former Sen. Jim Talent, former Navy Secretary John Lehman, and former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman. Roger Zakheim, professional staffer for House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), was the Pentagon transition team leader.

Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff chaired the homeland security transition team, with help from team leader David Howe. The intelligence transition team was chaired by former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and former State Department official Philip Zelikow; Michael Allen, chief of staff for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI), was the team leader.

For the State Department there were four co-chairs: former State Department and NSC staffer Dan Fisk, former Treasury Department official and Goldman Sachs executive John Rogers, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Michael Singh, and former Ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobel. The team leader was former State Department official Ken Juster.

Several sources involved in the transition said that Zoellick set up the State Department transition team without any cabinet-level leaders because he wanted to set himself up to become secretary of state if Romney was elected. These sources also said that in the last weeks before the election, Zoellick's role in the project had diminished, partially due to the backlash in GOP foreign-policy circles when his role was revealed.

"After the groups were established, Zoellick's involvement appeared minimal. His deputy, Brian Hook, oversaw the work of the agency and policy groups," said one person involved in the transition project. "It was a collaborative process that helped build and strengthen relationships within the conservative foreign-policy community that will hopefully continue to pay dividends for years to come."

Zoellick did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images