Redacting the Truth

WaPo factcheck ignores State Department Benghazi stonewall

Charred vehicle at the entrance of the U.S. Conulate, in Benghazi, Libya / AP
• April 29, 2013 5:30 pm


The U.S. Department of State is withholding information from congressional committees about who saw an April 2012 cable denying additional security at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, according to the House Oversight Committee.

The compound was later overrun in a terrorist attack on Sept. 11 that claimed the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

The office of Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton knew that the State Department denied an official request from a U.S. official in Libya for more security at the compound, citing her signature on a cable denying the request.

"The cable itself states ‘signature’ next to Clinton’s name and some of the names of those who participated in the process of clearing and approving the cable viewed by Congressional investigators were inexplicably redacted by the State Department. On multiple occasions, Congressional investigators objected to these redactions and requested un-redacted documents, including this cable. State Department has still not complied with these requests," wrote Issa spokesman Frederick Hill in an email.

Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler ignored the State Department’s stonewalling in an article that appeared in Monday’s print edition titled, "Issa claim about Clinton’s name on Benghazi cable is absurd."

Kessler argued that many cables leave the department’s headquarters bearing the secretary’s signature without the secretary ever seeing them. The Fact Checker ultimately gave Issa four Pinocchios, its highest rating, because "The odds are extremely long that Clinton ever saw this memo."

Hill said Kessler’s rating distracts from the fact that the State Department refuses to tell Congress who actually signed off on the memo if not Clinton.

"Critics [of Issa’s comments] have been strangely silent about wanting to see the names that State Department redacted from the cables," Hill said.

A version of the Fact Checker article appeared online on Friday. Both the online and print version acknowledged that the House committees are justified in inquiring into who actually did see the cable, but only the online version quotes Hill noting the State Department’s failure to disclose the names of those involved in the cable.

The online version also notes that the State Department keeps records of who participated in the cable, including who ultimately approved it. Hill said the State Department has only offered access to redacted versions of these documents.

Kessler argued that Issa's statement "made it sound like the answer was already known—that Clinton had a hand in it and even approved of it. There is no evidence to support that claim." He said he had to cut Hill’s assertion for space.

The Benghazi attack is receiving renewed attention after five House committees issued a joint report examining the government’s handling of the Benghazi attack last week. Issa pledged to hold more hearings on the Benghazi attack and the government’s response in May.

The State Department did not return a request for comment.

This case is not the first time that Congress has run into roadblocks when trying to investigate the Obama administration. Issa criticized the Department of Energy last week for stymieing his committee’s investigation of a loan program for electric car manufacturers.

The administration has had other troubles with transparency.

Three EPA officials, including former administrator Lisa Jackson, were caught using secret email accounts that would allow them to evade open records requests. Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against the government have increased during President Barack Obama’s tenure, and open government advocates have made other critiques, as well.