[Above: Photo showing the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks.]
The House Benghazi Committee is making a personal plea directed at Secretary of State John Kerry amid the State Department’s failure to fulfill longstanding congressional requests for information.
In a letter sent this week, Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., asked Kerry for his personal assistance in providing documents described in a November 18, 2014 letter and a March 4, 2015 subpoena to the State Department. The requests cover documents and communications related to ten former senior Sate Department officials.
It’s another example of a trend in which federal agencies fail to comply with congressional requests on a timely basis–or at all. Congress not only has the right but also has an obligation to conduct oversight of federal agencies conducting business and spending tax dollars on the public’s behalf. The same federal agencies often refuse to lawfully comply with federal Freedom of Information Act law. Instead, they routinely withhold public records from members of the public and the press.
Gowdy says the committee cannot fulfill its mandate to provide the first complete investigation of Benghazi until the record is complete. Once all of the relevant documents are turned over, the committee says it will schedule former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for an interview within 30 days.
Four Americans including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens were killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012. Numerous previous investigations have probed segments of the Benghazi case, but there were serious gaps. For example, the Accountability Review Board did not interview Clinton and other key officials, nor did it examine the roles of the White House, intelligence agencies or the Defense Department in any detail. The House Benghazi Committee will be the first to review all evidence.
The process of obtaining outstanding documents was complicated by news that Clinton used a private server to conduct the public’s business as Secretary of State and has since destroyed many emails. She says the destroyed emails were personal in nature and that all government-related emails have now been turned over to the State Department for review. Some of them have, in turn, been provided to the Benghazi Committee. However, the committee is waiting thousands more pages of documents and materials.
[quote]“To date, the State Department has not produced one single piece of paper responsive to the Committee’s request for records from the former Secretary’s leadership team,” said Gowdy in a statement.[/quote]
Kerry had promised in testimony before the House that the State Department would promptly produce requested documents. “Now it is time for his Department to explain why they have failed to keep his word,” says Gowdy.
The top Democrat on the Benghazi Committee, Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, called the request for documents a Republican “fishing expedition.” He also stated that some responsive documents have been turned over to the committee.
[quote]”This new claim that the Department has not produced a single responsive document is completely baseless and appears to be yet another excuse to drag out Secretary Clinton’s testimony until closer to the election,” said Cummings.[/quote]
According to Cummings, Republicans refuse to provide search terms to allow the State Department to expedite document production.
“State Department officials must review each email sent and received during a two year period to determine if it is responsive to the Committee’s request,” said Cummings in a statement. “This task must be undertaken for each of the 10 staff members listed in the subpoena, which means that the Department must manually sift through approximately 20 years’ worth of emails. The State Department has requested the Committee provide search terms to expedite this process.”
Critics say that demanding “narrowed search terms” is a common tactic federal agencies use to delay and narrow searches. But Cummings says it is simply a way to make the search more reasonable.