Benghazi panel to issue report later this year

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign stop at the Osage Public Safety Center, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Osage, Iowa.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign stop at the Osage Public Safety Center, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, in Osage, Iowa. AP

The committee investigating the fatal attacks in Benghazi, Libya will interview several high-profile Obama administration officials this week, including former CIA Director David Petraeus and former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Petraeus will testify Wednesday behind closed doors, the committee said. His appearance will be followed by Charlene Lamb, former deputy assistant secretary of state for international programs for diplomatic security on Thursday; Panetta on Friday and Jeremy Bash, former Defense Department chief of staff on Jan. 13.

The committee interviewed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, now the Democratic front-runner for president, in public in October.

“The American people and the families of the victims deserve to know the truth about what happened before, during and after the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attacks, and we must do everything we can to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future,” Committee spokesman Matt Wolking said.

As of Wednesday, the House Select Committee on Benghazi has been in existence for 609 days, surpassing the length of time the 9/11 Commission took to investigate the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001, according to the committee’s Democratic staff. (Its own website says it’s 608 days, not 609 days).

“Instead of following the bipartisan model set by the 9/11 Commission, which brought our entire nation together after we were attacked by terrorists, Republicans created a highly partisan Select Committee with an unlimited budget to attack their political opponents,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat. “Republicans continue to drag out this political charade closer to the 2016 presidential election, and the American taxpayers continue to pay the price.”

Not true, Republicans say.

“Democrats on the Benghazi Committee continue to waste taxpayer dollars playing politics and issuing stupid, meaningless press releases that are inaccurate to boot,” Wolking said. “Their complete lack of interest in getting answers for the families of the four Americans who died because they were left without adequate security on September 11 in one of the most dangerous places in the world is grotesque. If Democrats would actually assist with the investigation instead of undermining it – and stop acting as a full-fledged arm of the Clinton campaign – perhaps the committee wouldn’t still be waiting for crucial documents and witnesses to be produced by the administration.”

The 9/11 Commission was established on Nov. 27, 2002 and closed August 21, 2004, which is 634 days, according to Republicans.

A Democatic staffers says the 9/11 Commission took 604 days to conduct its investigative work and issue its 567-page report. “If the Republicans also want to count the 30 day wrap-up period the commission used to box up documents, circulate and publicize its report, shut down computers, and turn off the lights, that’s up to them,” the staffer says.

Federal law allowed for a 30-day wrap-up period for the 9/11 commission after the issuance of its report. (The resolution authorizing the Select Committee establishes a similar 30-day wrap-up period after the Benghazi committee issues its final report.)

The committee has proven more costly than permanent panels on intelligence, veterans affairs, ethics and small business, according to the Committee on House Administration, which collects monthly expenditure reports from each committee. Democrats even have a website constantly calculating the cost of the committee: more than $5.5 million as of Wednesday.

Democrats charge that the panel is “one of the longest, least productive and most partisan investigations in congressional history,” surpassing the investigations of Hurricane Katrina, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Iran-Contra and Watergate.

The Republican-controlled committee was formed in May 2014 to examine U.S. government policies that may have contributed to the attacks that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, and the response of the Obama administration, including Clinton.

Seven other congressional committees and the bipartisan independent Accountability Review Board already have looked into the assault. Nearly all of them criticized the Clinton State Department for insufficiently addressing security issues at the diplomatic facility in Benghazi.

In 2015, the committee conducted interviews with 64 witnesses, including 53 who had never been interviewed by a congressional committee, according to Republicans. It has reviewed roughly 100,000 pages of documents from various departments and agencies, most of them never before seen by a congressional committee, they say.

Wolking said the committee is still waiting to receive documents from the State Department and the CIA and for witnesses to be made available for interviews. It expects to release a report with recommendations within the next few months.

This post has been updated.