The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will conduct a bipartisan investigation into the terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, committee chairman Joseph Lieberman, I.D., Conn., and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced Friday evening.
The committee did not specify what steps it may take before the presidential and congressional elections on Nov. 6, but Lieberman spokeswoman Leslie Phillips said it is unlikely to advance beyond requests for information before election day.
“In our capacity as leaders of the Senate's chief oversight committee, we believe it is our responsibility to find out what happened and why, particularly with regard to the performance of the government agencies with relevant responsibility," Lieberman and Collins said in a statement. “We intend to examine how well the interagency processes worked, including whether all the relevant agencies had timely access to necessary intelligence information. And we want to fully understand why the Administration’s initial public assessments of this attack were subsequently proven inaccurate.”
The attack, in which Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died, and the Obama administration’s response has become a loaded political issue, with Republicans attacking the State Department for its handling of the matter and for its initial description of the attack as spontaneous product of a protest. Vice President Joseph Biden said in a debate Thursday night that “we didn’t know” U.S. diplomats in Libya had requested help in improving security prior to the attack. Many Republicans are eager to make the matter an electoral liability for the president.
It has also become an issue down ballot. Members of Senate committee including Scott Brown, R-Mass., and Claire McCaskill, R-Mo., are in close reelection races. Brown has highlighted the attack while McCaskill’s opponent Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., has called for her to seek hearing on the matter.
Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., held a hearing Wednesday on security failures prior to the attack. Democrats condemned that inquiry as a purely partisan exercise. Lieberman and Collins may hope their bipartisan inquiry will received as less politicized, though many Democrats distrust Lieberman on security matters. The Senate panel also his limited investigative staff compared to Issa’s committee.
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