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Psaki Can’t Give Straight Answer on Suppression of Benghazi Witnesses

• September 11, 2013 4:52 pm

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki was pressed by Associated Press reporter Matt Lee Wednesday on reports that the Obama administration continues to withhold Benghazi documents and witnesses and struggled to provide a straight answer.

Lee also asked about whether the complaint specifically that survivors of the attack who were interviewed by the FBI and then interviewed by the ARB are not being allowed to testify is incorrect.

Psaki answered that interviews of these individuals outside of the criminal justice process would pose risks that could jeopardize the law enforcement efforts.

"In addition, should their identities become public, they may become targets, putting their lives as well as those of their families and the people they protect at risk," she said. "And based on that information, the agents requested have not spoken publicly."

It also led to this exchange:

Q: OK, but it is factually correct, though, then, that the State Department or the administration is preventing people, specifically the survivors of the attack, from testifying, right?

PSAKI: I don't have anything — I don't have anything —

Q: For whatever reason — I'm not asking the reason; it's just true, right?

PSAKI: Matt, the context here is very important. I don't have anything more to add.

Full exchange:

Q: Some members of Congress are complaining or are threatening to issue subpoenas saying that the administration is continuing to withhold documents and witnesses. Do you have — I presume that you've seen the letter that Speaker Boehner sent to the secretary.

PSAKI: I know there was a letter from Chairman Issa; I'm not familiar with the Speaker —

Q: There was one today from him, and one yesterday, I think, from Chairman Issa.

PSAKI: We haven't responded, yet, as you —

Q: Have you gotten them?

PSAKI: I would have to check on the Boehner letter. We did receive the Issa letter.

Q: OK. Can you address the complaints that were made therein?

PSAKI: And I haven't — I don't have it specifically in front of me, but if you repeat to me the complaints here, I'm — I can do my best to respond.

Q: Unfortunately, I don't have it in front of me either. But I believe that it is this complaint that has been made before that you have not been forthcoming with making people available, allowing the survivors to testify to the committee, and that certain — they have not yet gotten certain documents. Are those valid complaints?

PSAKI: Well, I can say we're not preventing, as we have said, as many of my colleagues have said from this podium before, any employees who wish to tell their story from doing so. The ARB interviewed the five RSOs who were in Benghazi the night of the attack, along with more than a hundred other individuals who were on the ground in Tripoli or in Washington. Both the unclassified and classified versions of the Accountability Review Board reflect the input of people on the ground in Benghazi and Tripoli.

I also know that there is — this is a separate question, but in terms of our participation, that there is a hearing next week where Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen will also be testifying. And we've consistently supported their willingness to appear in public hearings and are pleased that they will finally be given that opportunity.

Q: Right, but what about — but the — so the complaint specifically that survivors of the attack who were interviewed by the FBI and then interviewed by the ARB are not being allowed to testify is incorrect?

PSAKI: Well, we believe, based on the information available to us, that interviews of these individuals outside of the criminal justice process would pose risks that could jeopardize the law enforcement efforts, and should — in addition, should their identities become public, they may become targets, putting their lives as well as those of their families and the people they protect at risk. And based on that information, the agents requested have not spoken publicly.

Q: Right, and you can say that and at the same time, with a straight face, say you're not preventing anyone from testifying?

PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think those are some very important reasons as to why they have not.

Q: Well, I — the reason is — in fact, I mean, it might — it's certainly relevant, but I mean, that you can't say that you're not preventing people from testifying on one hand and then say that you are preventing people from testifying because you think that if their identities became public there would be security problems and there's an ongoing law enforcement investigation. So in fact there is truth to the complaint from the chairman that people have not been made available.

PSAKI: Well, that implies an interest from any of the individuals he's requested in participating. But beyond that — I don't have anything more specific on that, but that's his accusation.

Q: Well, but — so you're — so you're saying that people — that these people are not testifying because they don't want to?

PSAKI: I don't have anything more specific on it. But I'm conveying to you why it did not — does not make sense for them to testify. And those reasons are very important in the context here.

Q: OK, but do you see that — do you see for — the contradiction here? When he complains that you are not making people available to him and you say that that's not true, you are, but then you say that in fact people are not being made available, that's a problem. It doesn't make sense.

PSAKI: Well, what I would say to him is we don't understand why anyone would want to do anything that would jeopardize the process.

Q: OK, but it is factually correct, though, then, that the State Department or the administration is preventing people, specifically the survivors of the attack, from testifying, right?

PSAKI: I don't have anything — I don't have anything —

Q: For whatever reason — I'm not asking the reason; it's just true, right?

PSAKI: Matt, the context here is very important. I don't have anything more to add.

Q: I understand that the context is — yeah, context is always very important, I agree.

But the fact of the matter is, is that he's complaining about something that he is — whether he is — his complaint is — the context, I agree, the context is important, but the facts of the matter are that he is right when he says that these people are not being allowed to speak before his committee. Right?

PSAKI: Matt, we have — we have received this letter.

Q: Yes.

PSAKI: I'm sure we will consider responding to it. But the context of why is very important.