On one hand, Washington Democrats are publicly brushing off Wednesday’s fresh hearings into Benghazi as a stunt by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) not worthy of much note.
On the other hand, they are steadily launching preemptive strikes against the exposition of whistleblower information that could prove damning to the Obama administration.
The ranking member on the Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), reacted angrily last month to House Republicans’ interim report on Benghazi, which noted an April 19, 2012, cable on which Hillary Clinton’s signature accompanies an acknowledgment of a request for extra security even though she then withdrew security assets.
“Speaker Boehner needs to immediately retract this erroneous report, remove it from his webpage, and apologize to Secretary Clinton for mischaracterizing a key document and making false allegations against her in the press,” Cummings said then, claiming the cable doesn’t have Clinton’s signature but her printed name. “It was incredibly reckless — or worse — if these public accusations were made knowing that the documents do not support them.”
As Oversight Democrats prepare for a slew of cameras pointed at the committee on Wednesday, Cummings today called for “bipartisan and responsible” investigations into all matters, “particularly those involving our national security.”
“Whistleblowers must have the ability to come forward to Congress and be protected from retaliation when they report waste, fraud, or abuse,” he added.
“I also believe members of Congress have an obligation to actually investigate claims before coming to conclusions and making public accusations. Unfortunately, House Republicans have taken the opposite approach. They issued a partisan report with reckless and false accusations against the former Secretary of State, they have completely concealed Mr. Thompson from Democratic Committee members, and they have failed to make even basic inquiries to the Intelligence Community, the Defense Department, or the State Department to vet specific allegations.”
Mark Thompson, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism, is expected to say at the hearing that Clinton tried to cut the State Department’s counterterrorism unit out of the Benghazi response the night of the attack, as Issa revealed over the weekend.
Other testimony will come from Foreign Service Officer and former Deputy Chief of Mission/Chargé d’Affairs in Libya Gregory Hicks, who received the call from Ambassador Chris Stevens that night saying “we’re under attack,” and Diplomatic Security Officer and former Regional Security Officer in Libya Eric Nordstrom, who previously testified before the committee in October.
Cummings accused Issa of leaking “snippets of interview transcripts to national media outlets in a selective and distorted manner to drum up publicity for their hearing.”
“This is investigation by press release and does a disservice to our common goal of ensuring that our diplomatic corps serving overseas has the best protection possible to do its critical work,” he said.
A handful of Oversight Democrats contacted by PJM last week did not return requests for comment or said they were unavailable to speak on Benghazi. But these 17 Democrats carry the task of running first-wave interference for the administration as the whistleblower testimony unfolds before a wall-to-wall packed hearing room and overflow press section.
“We don’t have the ability to hold a hearing. The Democrats have been completely kept out of this whole process. This has been a one- sided investigation, if you want to call it that. There’s been no sharing of information in a significant way with the Democrats staff members who usually conduct this type of investigation,” Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) complained on Fox News Sunday.
Lynch added that reports of whistleblower intimidation are “completely false.” Issa later accused him of being “an apologist for the administration.”
Today at the White House, spokesman Jay Carney repeated like a broken record President Obama’s assertion from last week’s press conference when asked about whistleblower intimidation.
“I’m not familiar with this notion that anybody has been blocked from testifying,” Obama told a reporter. “So what I’ll do is I will find out what exactly you are referring to.”
“We have said that we are not aware of anyone who has been blocked from speaking to Congress if they so choose to or want to speak to Congress,” Carney said today, shifting to another key talking point on Benghazi: the findings of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board.