Democrats Fear Partisanship in Libya Probe

Republicans in Congress forge ahead with inquiry as FBI investigates in Benghazi

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While the House Intelligence Committee dissects the details of the attack in Benghazi, Libya that left four dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, as they become available, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform barrels ahead.

It's a distinction that leaves many across the Capitol uneasy. While the Intelligence Committee stays in contact with State Department officials and waits for the FBI to determine how the consulate was attacked, the oversight committee has begun investigating on its own whether the Obama administration responded effectively to security concerns in Libya.

The FBI team investigating the attacks just reached Benghazi Thursday, while journalists and looters have already rummaged through the unprotected crime scene for weeks.

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The fast pace and lack of clarity surrounding the attacks leads some to wonder if Republican Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa and his majority are prioritizing election-year gains over uncovering the truth behind the violence in Libya.

"The fact that they are doing this so fast is concerning because investigations take time," says one congressional staffer. "People are so quick to judge and so quick to make political hay out of it. I think that is what is unfortunate. An ambassador and three other people were killed. We all want to get to the bottom of this."

Issa's desire to move swiftly forward has led to increased tensions within the oversight committee. Democrats feel as though they are being left in the dark as Issa and Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz take the lead. One staffer said Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings, the ranking member on the oversight committee, was unaware that Issa had sent a letter to the State Department calling for a hearing and more details about security in Benghazi until he read about it in news reports.

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"While I fully support careful, responsible, and robust congressional oversight, I do have concerns about rushing to hold a public hearing based on incomplete information if the purpose is to meet some arbitrary political timetable," Cummings says. "On such a critically important issue, I believe we should proceed in a bipartisan and responsible manner by gathering the facts before drawing any public conclusions."

The majority office says that Cummings is the one engaging in election-year politicking.

"Ranking Member Cummings would clearly prefer to delay the investigation of the serious security failures in Libya until after the election," says Ali Ahmad, a spokesman for the committee. "Moving swiftly to investigate facts and hear from relevant witnesses, however, is crucial to uncovering the truth."

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The oversight committee announced early this week that despite Congress's recess, it would hold an emergency hearing to address the Obama administration's failures in keeping the consulate secure, pointing to 13 incidents and threats that were made before to the fatal September 11 attack.

The committee has named its source as State Department official and Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom, who was deployed to Libya in September 2011 but left in June of this year. Nordstrom will testify at the October 10 hearing alongside Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary for international programs, who handles security concerns overseas.

Nordstrom is expected to address topics he brought up with committee members in a previous meeting at the hearing. Nordstrom told committee members that terrorists threatened the safety of the ambassador over Facebook and that one group mentioned it was closely monitoring Stevens's jogging pattern through Benghazi. Nordstrom also told the oversight committee about a bombing aimed at the U.S. consulate last April.

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice initially said the violence in Libya was not a terrorist attack but a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Muslim video that had gone viral. However, it is still unclear whether there was ever even a protest outside the consulate before the attack.