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Issa accuses State Department of dodging Benghazi questions in 37-page letter

 

Top Republican Rep. Darrell Issa Friday accused the State Department of trying to repeatedly dodge congressional efforts to look into the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman sent a 37-page letter to the newly-created House Select Committee on Benghazi detailing attempts he claimed were made to sidestep providing documents and answering questions about the attack from September 2012 until May 2014.

Issa said the State Department promised to cooperate with Congress but failed to actually provide information requested and missed many deadlines.

He also claimed the State Department threatened to destroy “committee property necessary for internal organization of in camera documents” and called out “abusive State Department document redaction practices.”

According to the letter, the State Department in early 2013 refused to hand over documents to the committee and demanded that the documents be reviewed in private. Issa’s letter added State officials also started leaving some of the documents behind or forgot to bring them to meetings.

Issa’s letter also cited State’s “abusive” redaction of key documents, and said the department tried to retroactively declassify documents to prevent their release.

“To mark a document with the lowest possible classification but the highest possible declassify date --25 years --is highly unusual,” the letter stated.

Fox News previously reported that some of the documents released to Congress by the State Department this past spring were more heavily redacted than documents released to the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch.

The State Department issued a statement late Friday saying, “We sent a letter to (House Select Committee) chairman (Trey) Gowdy and ranking member (Elijah) Cummings last month seeking to begin a dialogue at their earliest convenience on how we could work with them on their inquiries regarding the attacks in Benghazi. At the direction of Secretary Kerry we have met with both majority and minority staff on how we can continue to cooperate going forward.”

Issa’s letter also shed lights on a Fox News report published in May. In it, documents reviewed by Fox News showed there are differences between Benghazi emails released through the federal courts to Judicial Watch and emails released to the House oversight committee as part of its investigation into the attacks.

The discrepancies are fueling allegations the administration is holding back documents from Congress.

"The key question is whether Congress now has all the documents," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, a member of the oversight committee, said. As for differences between the two sets of documents, Chaffetz alleged: "They are playing games. The classification and redactions are different. Why should Judicial Watch get more than Congress after issuing a subpoena?"

The emails published by Judicial Watch, which showed additional White House involvement in shaping the public explanation of what happened, helped trigger the announcement by House Speaker John Boehner of a select committee to investigate.

So far, U.S. authorities have arrested Ahmed Abu Khatallah in connection with the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Libya that led to the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, information officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

Special Operations Forces captured Khatallah during a nighttime raid in Libya June 15-16, marking the first breakthrough in the investigation of the Benghazi attacks.

U.S. authorities have said they are looking to identify and capture additional co-conspirators.

Fox News' Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.