WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder told a House Appropriations subcommittee on Friday that his department doesn’t have a “formal relationship” with a controversial Islamic group while a chairman argued that an interpretation of the law has inexplicably tied the Pentagon’s hands in nabbing the Benghazi attackers.
At a hearing to review the Justice Department’s FY 2015 budget request, Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Chairman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) reminded Holder, the sole witness, that last year the DOJ was “directed to follow the lead of the FBI to keep distance between government officials and individuals or organizations associated with the support of terrorist activities such as the un-indicted co-conspirator Council on American-Islamic Relations.”
“Director [James] Comey testified last week that this policy was enforced throughout the FBI. Could you confirm to the committee that such a policy has been implemented throughout the Department of Justice?” Wolf asked.
“There’s not, I don’t think, a formal policy with regard to our interaction with CAIR in particular. We meet with a number of groups in our attempt to deal with the problem of homegrown radical — homegrown violence, radicalization. It is not — we don’t have a formal relationship with CAIR,” Holder responded.
“I cannot say categorically that we don’t have meetings among our various U.S. attorneys offices around the country, when members of that organization might be present. But we don’t have any formal relationship with CAIR,” he added.
Holder was reminded that his department has received $12 million in appropriations from the committee over the past three years to research domestic radicalization.
“This is something that is a priority for the president. It is one that he asks the national security team about and expects reports on, at least on a monthly — on a monthly basis. And so we use that money to try to understand how do people get radicalized, what drives otherwise seemingly normal people to take these radical courses and then to come up in ways in which we interact with groups of people, individuals, various communities, and so that there’s a counternarrative to people who would go on the Internet and be convinced that there are certain ways of life that they should follow,” Holder said.
“Our U.S. attorneys have been very involved in this action. We — it’s one of the charges that I’ve given to them to get out into the communities and to interact with communities that are at risk so that we reduce the possibility of this — of these domestic violence, potential domestic violence adherents.”
Wolf said it was “amazing” to hear Michael Morell, the former acting director of the CIA, say this week that he removed the word “Islamic” from administration text “because they didn’t want to offend anybody when they were doing the briefing on the attack on Benghazi.”
Morell’s exact words to the House Intelligence Committee: “I did not take out extremists. I took out the word Islamic in front of extremist and I took it out for two reasons. Most importantly I took it out because we were dealing with protests and demonstrations across much of the Muslim world as a result of the video, and the last thing I wanted to do, was to do anything to further inflame those passions. And so, that is why I took the word Islamic out.”
“I mean, that is political correctness gone awry, when the CIA is worried and removes the word ‘Islamic’ on a report where we lose four American citizens,” Wolf said. “I think this administration is adrift.”
Wolf, who has long called for a special committee to investigate Benghazi, said he’s concerned about the Obama administration’s “choice to narrowly interpret its authority under the Authorization for Use of Military Force so as not to allow military assets to be used to track down and kill the terrorists responsible for the deadly Benghazi terrorist attacks.”
“In most of the cases, the administration takes a broad interpretation of AUMF to go after terrorists in the Middle East and North Africa,” Wolf said. “Yet, for some reason, when it comes to the Benghazi suspects, you’ve read the law in a way that prevents the military action against the al-Qaeda affiliate terrorists responsible for killing our ambassador and three others.”
The chairman called the refusal to use the AUMF “particularly inexplicable” considering that Morell told the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that “the CIA analyst said from the get-go that al-Qaeda was involved in this attack.”
“Given that the administration has known from the beginning of the al-Qaeda connection and AUMF allows the military to go after terrorists connected to al-Qaeda, how can the department defend the reading of the law in a way that it prevents using all resources, including military assets, to track down, detain or kill these terrorists?” Wolf asked. “Can you really argue that the AUMF allows you to make a drone strike on [Anwar] al-Awlaki, who was an American citizen, but not on a terrorist connected to al-Qaeda that killed our ambassador?”
He noted that “to date, not a single terrorist responsible for the deadly attack has been captured or killed.”
“On the very limited occasions where suspects have been detained, your department has failed to exert pressure on the governments of Tunisia and Egypt to allow the FBI to have access to the terrorists,” Wolf added.
President Obama said last May at the National Defense University that he “intend to engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorism without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing.”
“The AUMF is now nearly 12 years old. The Afghan war is coming to an end. Core al-Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al-Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States,” Obama said. “…So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate.”
When asked why there had been no arrests in the attack, Morell told the Intelligence panel that he left the agency eight months ago, “so I have no idea what the status of the investigation is. I have no idea what the status of the CIA’s support to that investigation is. So, I really can’t speculate on where things stand. It’s a really question for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”