State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf got into a testy exchange with AP reporter Matt Lee and Fox News producer Lucas Tomlinson over the exclusion of the Benghazi suspects from the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program Thursday in the State Department press conference.
Tomlinson pressed Harf on specifically why the Benghazi suspects are not included on the Rewards for Justice list. The State Department spokeswoman declined to give a reason, citing the classified deliberations that go into the decision whether to place an individual on the list.
Lee interjected he did not doubt the government’s resolve to pursue those responsible for the Benghazi attack, but questioned the optics of not including the suspected terrorists in the program.
After a brief back-and-forth, Harf chastised Lee for interrupting her and tersely replied she did not believe excluding the suspects from the program reflects poorly on the State Department:
LUCAS TOMLINSON: But, Marie, you’re not answering the question, which is why are they not included on the Rewards for Justice?
MARIE HARF: Well, there’s a process that goes into this, and it’s an interagency process. Those deliberations are classified. So I’m not going to be able to get into those. But, again, it’s not the only indication that it’s important to find them and bring them to justice, which is, I think, what your — the heart of what your question is actually getting at.
TOMLINSON: Well, I also — I spoke to somebody who used to run the program Who said it’s actually pretty easy to put suspects on the list. And so the question of why they’re not already on the list a year after the attacks I think bears scrutiny.
HARF: Well, it’s an interagency process. And again, I’m going to say the same line again, but it’s not the only indication that we’re committed to finding information about these people. It’s an important program, certainly one that the State Department is proud of, but it’s just not the only indication that we’re trying to find these people.
MATT LEE: I’m not —
HARF: Matt, come on.
LEE: Well, listen, I —
HARF: Can I finish my sentence please before you try to interrupt me?
LEE: Well, the problem is you’re trying to answer my question by not answering it. I’m not — HARF: OK, you don’t know what I was going to say, actually.
LEE: I’m not questioning the U.S. government’s resolve to catch the people behind the — responsible for the Benghazi attack. I’m not questioning that. I’m not suggesting that you’re not taking it seriously.
HARF: But you won’t let me say what I was going to say.
LEE: What I’m — what I’m wanting to know is whether or not you agree that putting them on this list — putting the suspects on this list might be a way to show — to better show —
LEE: — or to show further your resolve and your interest in catching them. HARF: I don’t. I think our resolve —
HARF: — has been made crystal clear at the highest levels of this government, which is exactly what I was going to say before you interrupted me again.