State Dept to Senate: You can only look at Benghazi documents when you're not here

After weeks of intense criticism over the White House handling of security for the Benghazi consulate before, during, and after the terrorist attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, the Senate will begin holding hearings in less than two weeks to get answers on all of these questions.  The House has already begun an investigation through the Oversight Committee, but the State Department has refused to fully cooperate with either — at least until now.  For the first time, State has agreed to allow Senators to view diplomatic cables and other documents related to the failures surrounding the Benghazi incident, for a limited time.

How limited?  They can only access the documents while they aren’t within a hundred miles of them:

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. …

“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.”

Bob Corker and Johnny Isakson have sent a letter to Hillary Clinton demanding that the State Department release the documents fully to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which oversees State and which will conduct the investigation.  Committee chair John Kerry had already written his own letter requesting access to the documents, which apparently produced this rear-end-covering exercise of hide-and-seek during the Senate recess.

That has some interesting ramifications, too.  Clinton has insisted that she will leave the State Department by the end of Obama’s first term.  Kerry has been widely rumored to be Obama’s first choice to replace her.  If that’s the case, don’t expect Kerry to press too hard on broadening the faux access that State has granted to Senators while they’re out of Washington, and don’t expect Kerry to press too hard at all on the failures surrounding Benghazi.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is entitled to full access to those documents.  So is the Oversight Committee in the House.  The State Department answers to Congress, and cannot withhold documents and testimony relevant to an investigation for long.  It will probably take subpoenas to pry them loose for any significant access, though, and that means that the only meaningful investigation will take place in the House.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on December 09, 2022