House panel makes scant progress getting more answers on Benghazi attack

House Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans lashed out at State Department official Patrick Kennedy on Wednesday at a hearing on last year’s attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, accusing the Obama administration of not holding State Department employees to account for failing to protect the facility.

The attack killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Republicans on the panel complained to Kennedy, who is Undersecretary for Management, about the four State Department employees on whom an Accountability Review Board (ARB) had pinned some responsibility for not defending the facility against the attack.

Patrick Kennedy, Undersecretary of State for Management testifies during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, September 18, 2013 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Last December the ARB report blamed department officials for “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies” that led to protection for the Benghazi facility that was “grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place.”

Those four employees haven’t been held accountable, Republicans said, by being fired, suspended, or deprived of pay or benefits.

But Kennedy said “there is an inherent danger” to serving as a diplomat abroad and that relieving the four officials of their duties and reassigning them to lesser roles “is a serious act of accountability” and “a serious disciplinary action.” Their cases are still being reviewed by Secretary of State John Kerry, he said.

“In the real world, this would not happen,” Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla. told Kennedy. “They would be fired, they would be terminated – because they failed… Re-assignment does not equal accountability.”

The ARB chairman, former ambassador Thomas Pickering and its vice chairman, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, will testify Thursday before the House Government reform Committee on their investigation.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told congressional committees in January that she took responsibility for not adequately protecting U.S. personnel at the facility.

Rep. Randy Weber, R- Texas played a video clip of Clinton’s famous 2008 campaign advertisement about a red phone ringing at 3 AM in the White House when a foreign crisis erupted. The ad was an attempt to argue that Clinton had foreign policy experience and that her then-rival for the nomination, Sen. Barack Obama, lacked such experience. 

“Are you convinced we’ve gotten to the bottom of who’s accountable?” Weber asked Kennedy, who replied that he was convinced

Several Democrats on the committee accused the Republican members of second-guessing decisions made by Clinton and others leading up to the attacks, playing “Monday morning quarterback,” and seeking to exploit the attack for political advantage.

But one Democrat, Rep. Brad Sherman of California, was critical of the one aspect of the administration’s handling of the Libya situation.

He asked Kennedy whether the Libyan government has authorized the United States “to take kinetic action against terrorists in Benghazi if we believe they are responsible for the death of Ambassador Stevens.” Kennedy sidestepped the question, saying “Let me take that question for the record” – meaning that he’d supply a written answer later.

Sherman responded, “I’d sure like to know the answer. ‘Take for the record’ usually means never get an answer.” Sherman pointed out that the United States had been holding $25 billion in Libyan assets and that he’d urged that money not be released. “Had we done so, we might have a little bit of leverage with Libya.”