One of the five Democrats on the Select Committee on Benghazi defended the amount of time it took for the administration to nab an Ansar al-Sharia commander suspected of having a role in the Sept. 11, 2012, consulate attack, saying just because reporters could get to the terrorists doesn’t mean U.S. forces could.
Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the subject of criminal charges filed last July, had been essentially living in the open, making himself available for multiple media interviews since the attack that killed four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Khatallah is “someone I think we’ve had our eyes on for quite some time.”
“But it’s a very difficult operating environment. Both in terms of gathering the evidence but also in terms of making the grab that we did,” Schiff told CNN.
“He’s one of the key leaders of Ansar al-Sharia, which is one of the main militant organizations responsible in that attack.”
Schiff admitted the time that’s passed before the arrest has been “very frustrating.”
“But I think there were several factors at work. First, we had to make sure that we had the evidence to go after this guy. And it took a long time to sort through the events of that horrendous tragedy and figure out who was responsible, what roles they played, what witnesses we had, what evidence we had. Then we had a very impermissive environment,” he said.
“And yes, reporters were able to get to him. But it’s one thing for a reporter to be able to get to a swaggering culprit who’s willing to sit down with them. It’s another to get in, to grab someone and get out without getting our people killed. And then finally, you have the potential of really disrupting the Libyan government itself that I think was a concern and I don’t think is less of a concern now…. But I think ultimately we concluded, and I don’t think this was the overriding consideration, that whatever impact it would have on the Libyan government was just not going to sway us.”
Schiff said he doesn’t think the arrest will quiet the Benghazi controversy.
“And the criticism has not only been intense, but it has been populated with conspiracy theories that migrate as each one is debunked on to a new one. So there’s really nothing I think the president can do or say that’s going to satisfy some of the Benghazi conspiracy theorists,” he said.