Breaking News

For Skeptical Lawmaker, Doubts on Attack Were Sown in Whirlwind Trip to Libya

WASHINGTON — On Oct. 6, 2012, an Air Force Gulfstream jet landed in Tripoli, Libya, carrying a four-star Army general, a brash Republican congressman from Utah, and a young State Department lawyer — an unlikely group there to investigate a harrowing tragedy.

Less than a month earlier, militants had overrun and burned the American diplomatic compound in Libya’s second city, Benghazi, killing four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Diplomats at the embassy in Tripoli were still traumatized by the death of their colleagues and fearful for their own safety.

But Representative Jason Chaffetz, a member of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, wanted answers on what he believed was an increasingly spurious account by the Obama administration of what happened in Benghazi the night of Sept. 11.

By the time Mr. Chaffetz left Tripoli, eight hours after he arrived, the lines were drawn between the State Department and House Republicans, a mutual suspicion that played out vividly at a Congressional hearing last week. “That’s where my passion for this story really grew,” Mr. Chaffetz said in an interview last week. “What we were hearing, and what we were seeing were two different things.”

From the beginning, Mr. Chaffetz’s visit raised concerns in the State Department that Republicans were looking to use Benghazi as a political club against President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Worried about interviews Mr. Chaffetz wanted to conduct with its personnel, the State Department insisted that a lawyer be present during any conversations. The lawyer’s exclusion from one meeting on the ground that he did not have adequate security clearance prompted an angry phone call from Cheryl D. Mills, Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff, to the embassy’s top diplomat, Gregory Hicks.

“This was not an ordinary Congressional delegation but part of an announced Congressional investigation,” a spokesman for the State Department, Patrick H. Ventrell, said Monday.

Similar concerns were reflected in the revisions that Mr. Ventrell’s boss, Victoria Nuland, had made to talking points about the attack in the week after it happened. Saying it could be used against the department by lawmakers, Ms. Nuland pushed to delete references to other potential terrorist threats by the Central Intelligence Agency, which drafted the talking points.

At a news conference Monday, Mr. Obama also questioned the intentions of his Republican critics, saying the drumbeat of accusations about a cover-up of Benghazi “defies logic.”

“And the fact that this keeps on getting churned out, frankly, has a lot to do with political motivations,” he said. Republicans, the president said, were using the dispute to question his and Mrs. Clinton’s integrity, even raising political donations from it.

Mr. Chaffetz dismisses that critique, saying the talking points and the testimony of Mr. Hicks reveal an administration that first mishandled security at the post in Benghazi and then sought to airbrush its account of the attack.

“We always get blamed that it’s all politics,” he said, “but we’re seeing smoke at every step.”

Accounts of the congressman’s visit to Libya differ in many respects, but Mr. Chaffetz and current and former State Department officials agree on one thing: the timing was tough. The F.B.I.’s investigators had not even been able to get into Benghazi when Mr. Chaffetz told the State Department that he wanted to go on a fact-finding mission.

After initially resisting a visit on the grounds that it would use too many embassy resources, the State Department reluctantly decided to accommodate Mr. Chaffetz. But Democratic lawmakers complained that he deliberately excluded them from the trip by informing them of it only 24 hours beforehand. And State Department officials questioned his motives, given that he was bringing along an investigator from the oversight committee, James Lewis, a former Army officer and C.I.A. operative.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting

View the original article here

Related Post:

  • 0Blogger Comment
  • Facebook Comment