Congress interviewing "dozens" of Benghazi witnesses

In recent weeks, members of the House and Senate and their staffers have held two classified hearings on the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya; conducted more than 25 hours of formal, transcribed interviews with witnesses; and spoken informally with several dozen additional witnesses, including some who are being called "whistleblowers."

Among those who have recently spoken to Congress is Marine Corps Col. George Bristol who was in the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) chain of command on Sept. 11. Earlier this month, CBS News reported that the Pentagon declined Republican congressional requests to produce Bristol for interviews. At the time, the Pentagon said Bristol had retired and that they "cannot compel retired members to testify before Congress."

However, after that report about Congress' search for Bristol, the Pentagon contacted CBS News to say their original assessment was in error and that Bristol is not retired, after all. Instead, he's on "terminal leave." The Pentagon added: "In response to a request from [South Carolina Republican] Senator [Lindsey] Graham's office earlier this month, Colonel George Bristol (USMC) will be available to meet with House and Senate members and their staffs."

Bristol has since met with Graham and is set to testify Tuesday behind closed doors in front of the House Armed Services Committee.  Congress plans more Benghazi-related public hearings after they return from their August recess.

Four Americans including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens were killed in the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. compounds in Benghazi. No suspects have been arrested. Republicans have raised persistent questions about the Obama administration's handling of the crisis.

Graham tells CBS News that his office is now hearing from frustrated officials within military special forces and intelligence communities who say they have good leads on the whereabouts of suspects in the attacks but can't get approval to take action.

Administration officials have consistently said they did everything possible to respond to the attacks but that no U.S. military assistance from outside Libya was available. The administration also says there was no attempt to cover up any facts, that that the State Department has taken steps to fix shortfalls in security procedures after an appointed Accountability Review Board conducted an investigation.

  • Sharyl Attkisson On Twitter»

    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.

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