Comey says Congress can talk to Beng­hazi sur­vivors

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY EILEEN SUL­LI­VAN

FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey told law­mak­ers Thurs­day he is not op­posed to Congress speak­ing with the sur­vivors of the 2012 at­tack on the diplo­matic mis­sion in Beng­hazi, Libya, con­tra­dict­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s po­si­tion that such dis­cus­sions would jeop­ar­dize the FBI’s crim­i­nal case against those charged in the ter­ror­ist strike.

Mr. Comey’s po­si­tion on the po­lit­i­cally charged is­sue seemed to sur­prise some of the se­na­tors who have un­suc­cess­fully asked the ad­min­is­tra­tion for ac­cess to the sur­vivors.

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, South Carolina Repub­li­can, has said he will block Pres­i­dent Obama’s nom­i­nees for Fed­eral Re­serve chair­man and Home­land Se­cu­rity sec­re­tary if the ad­min­is­tra­tion does not give Congress ac­cess to the Beng­hazi sur­vivors.

The FBI is lead­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the at­tack that killed U.S. Am­bas­sador J. Christo­pher Stevens and three other Amer­i­cans. Crit­ics say the Beng­hazi sur­vivors could clear up huge lin­ger­ing ques­tions about the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s han­dling of the at­tack and its af­ter­math.

Mr. Comey, a for­mer fed­eral prose­cu­tor who has headed the FBI for just two months, weighed in on what has be­come a ral­ly­ing cry for con­ser­va­tives. Tes­ti­fy­ing be­fore a Se­nate com­mit­tee on the cur­rent ter­ror­ism threat to the U.S., Mr. Comey said he was un­aware that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­fused to give some mem­bers of Congress ac­cess to the sur­vivors be­cause of the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“As the FBI di­rec­tor, I don’t have an ob­jec­tion to it,” Mr. Comey said. “I don’t know whether the pros­e­cu­tors would feel dif­fer­ently or if there’s some other rea­son I’m not think­ing of. But speak­ing from my per­spec­tive, yeah, I don’t have an ob­jec­tion to that.”

Con­ser­va­tives ar­gue that the ad­min­is­tra­tion tried to mis­lead the pub­lic about a deadly ter­ror­ist at­tack on Amer­i­cans in the heat of a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, and that an ad­min­is­tra­tion in­ter­nal re­view of the in­ci­dent glossed over pol­icy and se­cu­rity fail­ures. In the months since, con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans have ac­cused the ad­min­is­tra­tion of stonewalling their in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

“I was very pleased to hear th­ese com­ments by the FBI di­rec­tor,” Mr. Gra­ham said Thurs­day. “I’m hope­ful the State Depart­ment will re­view and hope­fully change their po­si­tion al­low­ing the Beng­hazi wit­nesses to be in­ter­viewed by Congress for over­sight pur­poses.”

A diplo­matic se­cu­rity agent who was an eye­wit­ness to the Sept. 11, 2012, at­tack has been ques­tioned by the House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee. But other mem­bers want to ques­tion sur­vivors as well.

“There should be no rea­son that the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion should be used as an ex­cuse for us not to have ac­cess to ques­tion those wit­nesses, whether it’s an open hear­ing or in a se­cure brief­ing set­ting,” Sen. Ron John­son, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can, said.

Mr. Comey said he hadn’t dis­cussed the mat­ter with the Jus­tice Depart­ment. The Jus­tice Depart­ment did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to ques­tions about the FBI di­rec­tor’s po­si­tion.

Sen. Carl Levin, Michi­gan Demo­crat, asked Mr. Comey whether he might have a dif­fer­ent opin­ion af­ter he spoke with pros­e­cu­tors. Mr. Comey, a fed­eral prose­cu­tor for 15 years and deputy as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral for two years, said it’s al­ways pos­si­ble.

In a let­ter to Mr. Gra­ham last month, the State Depart­ment said it was con­cerned about con­gres­sional in­ter­views with the sur­vivors of the at­tack be­cause of Jus­tice Depart­ment ad­vice that they could be wit­nesses in a crim­i­nal trial, and any in­ter­views out­side the crim­i­nal jus­tice process could jeop­ar­dize a case.

The depart­ment also wrote that “be­cause th­ese sur­vivors are po­ten­tial wit­nesses in a ter­ror­ism prose­cu­tion, as well as law en­force­ment pro­fes­sion­als who en­gage in se­cu­rity ac­tiv­i­ties around the world in­clud­ing at high-threat posts, dis­clo­sure of their iden­ti­ties could put their lives, as well as those of their fam­i­lies and the peo­ple they pro­tect, at in­creased risk.”

State Depart­ment spokes­woman Jen Psaki had no im­me­di­ate re­sponse to Mr. Comey’s re­marks.


FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey goes against the ad­min­is­tra­tion when he tells law­mak­ers Thurs­day that he is not op­posed to Congress speak­ing with sur­vivors of the 2012 at­tack on the U.S. mis­sion in Beng­hazi.

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