WASHINGTON — House Democrats on Wednesday demanded an end to a Republican-led investigation into the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, calling the probe a partisan “witch hunt.” Republicans rejected those calls and pledged to press ahead.
Reps. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, and Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the multiple inquires and reports have answered the questions surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, assault.
Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed.
Nineteen months after the attack, Republicans are throwing “as much mud against the wall in hope something sticks,” Smith said. “It is time to get past the Benghazi witch hunt.”
Hours later, Senate Republicans said only a special select committee could get answers about what happened that chaotic night and what President Barack Obama was doing. The GOP contends the administration tried to mislead the American people about a terrorist attack in the heat of a presidential campaign.
Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said they had no plans to abandon their effort.
“We will never stop demanding answers and accountability when our national security is at stake and we owe that to the families of those brave American citizens who were murdered,” McCain said.
Specifically, Graham was angry with Mike Morell, the CIA’s former deputy director, who testified last week before a House panel about changes he made to the talking points that were used by Susan Rice, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in a series of Sunday talk show appearances after the attack.
Morell said his actions were driven by the information provided by intelligence analysts and the Defense Department, and that politics did not influence what he did.
Graham said in a private meeting he had with Morell, Rice and other senators months before the testimony, the CIA official never set the record straight on the talking points. “In every sense of the word, Mike Morell lied to me by not being honest about the role he played when I asked,” Graham said in promising to pursue the matter.
Graham said he urged the House leadership to end the separate committee investigations and appoint a select committee. “Put new eyes on Benghazi before it’s too late,” he said.
Cummings and Smith spoke shortly before the House committees planned to interview retired Army Gen. Carter Ham, who headed U.S. Africa Command on the night of the attack.
Cummings said Ham has been interviewed at least six times, and that an independent report and a Republican report from the House Armed Services Committee found no evidence of a “stand down” order to the military, delaying a response. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress last June that personnel in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, were never told to “stand down” and top Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee reported in February that no such order was given.
The February interim report from the Republicans on that committee, including the chairman, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon of California, said Army Lt. Col. S.E. Gibson wanted to take three special operators from Tripoli to Benghazi after the first attack. Military commanders were concerned about the safety of Americans in the capital, fearing a wave of attacks and the possibility of hostage-taking.
Cummings said “this is the insulting way Republicans have conducted this investigation” and they are playing a “game of political gotcha with our military.”
Multiple independent and congressional investigations have largely faulted the State Department for inadequate security at the mission.