The attorney for a whistleblower on the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, says the Obama administration is impeding efforts to allow her client and other whistleblowers to speak.
Washington D.C. attorney Victoria Toensing has taken the case of an unidentified whistleblower from the State Department. For her client to provide full testimony, Toensing says she needs something the government has yet to provide: the means for her to receive a security clearance to handle the sensitive or classified material involved.
It's been two weeks since Republicans in Congress formally asked the State Department, the CIA and the Defense Department to outline the process for clearing private attorneys for Benghazi whistleblowers, but the agencies have not responded. The House Oversight Committee has identified at least four federal employees whom investigators consider "whistleblowers."
On Friday, House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., followed up with a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, accusing the State Department of impeding or delaying the Oversight Committee's investigation into the Benghazi attacks by restricting access to witnesses; insisting that all documents, even unclassified material, be reviewed privately; and "requiring a State Department minder to be present when investigators review evidence." A State Department spokesman says the agency is in the process of reviewing Issa's letter.
Today, President Obama said he's unaware of the controversy.
"I'm not familiar with this notion that anybody's been blocked from testifying. So what I'll do is I will find out what exactly you're referring to," said Mr. Obama when reporters asked about the whistleblowers. "What I've been very clear about from the start is that our job with respect to Benghazi has been to find out exactly what happened, to make sure that U.S. embassies, not just in the Middle East, but around the world, are safe and secure, and to bring those who carried it out to justice."
There have been no arrests reported in the more than seven months since terrorists reportedly attacked two U.S. compounds in Benghazi. Four Americans were killed, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
According to the House Oversight Committee, "numerous individuals have come forward with information related to the Benghazi attack." On April 16, Issa requested that the State Department make clear to all employees that "they are free to furnish information to Congress in accordance with their statutory rights." But, according to Issa, "the State Department has not even taken the modest step to assure whistleblowers that they will not face retaliation."
Monday, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters "I'm not aware of private counsel seeking security clearances or anything in that regard. But let me just take this opportunity to really underscore once again the unprecedented level of cooperation and transparency we provided Congress in terms of the Benghazi situation." Ventrell pointed to eight hearings, 20 briefings, 25,000 pages of documentation and the State Department's independent Accountability Review Board report.
The House Oversight Committee says the State Department's restrictive access to Benghazi documents has been an ongoing problem. "[T]he [State] Department sends an employee to Capitol Hill every morning with boxes" of documents that were "not organized or catalogued in any logical way...were not permitted to be taken away, even temporarily, and ..were returned to the Department at the end of each day." In his letter Friday to Kerry, Issa questioned the motivations for the restrictive procedures, stating that "approximately 80 percent of the documents in question are unclassified."