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POLITICS: PennAve

Frank Wolf renews call for special Benghazi panel after new questions surface

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Beltway Confidential,Benghazi,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,Analysis,State Department

Rep. Frank Wolf is renewing his call for the creation of a special House committee devoted to investigating the Benghazi, Libya, attack after an attorney for a State Department whistleblower said that 400 surface-to-air missiles intended for Syrian rebels were stolen, fueling a cover-up.

The Virginia Republican, who has served in the House for more than three decades, circulated a letter to House GOP colleagues Tuesday that touted former U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Joe DiGenova’s comments on a Washington radio show Monday morning arguing that the real scandal about Benghazi is the theft of 400 surface-to-air missiles by some “very ugly people.”

“These new allegations are another reason why a select committee is needed more than ever to investigate the truth behind the Benghazi attacks,” Wolf wrote in the letter.

DiGenova, who represents one of the Benghazi whistleblowers, said the Obama administration remains fearful that those missiles could be used to shoot down an airplane or blow up an embassy, contributing to the concern that led the State Department to shutter a record number of embassies in the Muslim world last week.

“We had troops ready to deploy to Croatia to go [to Benghazi] that night of Sept. 11, 2012, to rescue Americans,” DiGenova said. “We have learned that one of the reasons the administration is so deeply concerned – we have been told there were 400 surface-to-air missiles stolen, and that they are on or about in the hands of many people, and that the biggest fear in the U.S. intelligence community is that one of these missiles will be used to shoot down an airliner.”

Those claims, with reports that surfaced two weeks ago that some 30 CIA operatives were in Benghazi the night of the attack and have been polygraphed each month to make sure they are not leaking details about it, have led five more Republicans this month to co-sponsor legislation that would create a special panel to look into the unanswered questions surrounding the attack, Wolf said.

“Are you one of the 167 Republicans – nearly three-quarters of our conference – who have cosponsored?” Wolf asked in his letter, including a transcript of the DiGenova interview, which aired Monday on WMAL.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has resisted the creation of a select committee devoted to investigating Benghazi, allowing the panels with jurisdiction over the matter to start their own probes. Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Calif., who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has led the most aggressive inquiries into the Benghazi attack. But his committee also is investigating the IRS’ targeting of conservative nonprofit groups for special scrutiny, among a host of other administration oversight probes.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf declined to confirm whether 400 missiles were stolen from the U.S. in transit to Syria, and the reporter did not specifically ask whether they were stolen the night of the Benghazi attack.

Harf, however, confirmed that the U.S. has helped the fledgling Libyan government secure weapons left over from former Libyan Dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.

While Harf said the U.S. has devoted $400 million to assist the government of Libya in in “securing and disabling stockpiles of at-risk conventional weapons and ammunition,” she said she didn’t have “anything specific on the [report of the 400 stolen missiles], except to say that clearly, there was a security vacuum where a lot of Gadhafi-era weapons were floating around, and that’s why we’re committed to working with the Libyan government on it.”

A White House spokeswoman referred a follow-up question to the CIA, which did not immediately return a request for comment.

DiGenova says former intelligence officials “who stay in constant contact with people in the special ops and intelligence community” gave him the information.

“And it’s pretty clear that the biggest concern right now are the 400 missiles, which have been diverted in Libya and have gotten into the hands of some very ugly people,” he said. “And they worried specifically, according to these sources, about an attempt to shoot down an airliner.”

It's not clear when the 400 missiles were stolen and where they were taken from, whether the U.S. government had collected them somewhere in Libya, or had brought them in from somewhere else or if they were ever in Libya at all, although the implication appears to be they were taken around the time of the attack.

When asked if the weapons were taken from the annex on the night of September 11, DiGenova said “that I do not know whether they were at the annex.” But, he said, “it is clear that the [CIA] annex was somehow involved in the process of the distribution of those missiles.”

DiGenova also slammed President Obama for revealing during his Friday news conference the existence of a sealed indictment against a Benghazi suspect or suspects.

Last week CNN reported that the Justice Department has filed charges against Ahmed Kattalah, a Libyan militia leader long thought to be a key player in orchestrating the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi.

On Friday, the president was asked whether he would make good on his vow to bring the people who attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last year to justice.

That’s when Obama violated a basic legal rule: he publicly discussed a sealed indictment.

“We have informed, I think the public that there’s a sealed indictment. It’s sealed for a reason. But we are intent on capturing those who carried out this attack, and we’re going to stay on it until we get them,” he said.

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