Dec 10, 6:34 PM EST

Leader of House Benghazi committee defends inquiry


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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The chairman of a special House committee investigating the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, strongly defended his inquiry Wednesday, even as Democrats and some Republicans said previous probes have already answered remaining questions about the attacks that killed four Americans.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said he is "keenly aware" that many people from both parties believe there is nothing left to investigate after the previous reviews, including a House Intelligence Committee report last month that found no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.

But Gowdy said "some of those very same folks who now tell us to move on did not believe we should have investigated Benghazi in the first place."

A report by the intelligence panel found that the CIA and the military acted properly in responding to the 2012 attack. Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the panel determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria

The 12-member Benghazi committee expires with the end of this congressional term and must be reauthorized in the new Congress that begins next month. House Speaker John Boehner and other GOP leaders have said they intend to keep the committee intact.

Gowdy and other lawmakers said the committee will seek to avoid fights over issues that have already been decided as it reconvenes in the new year. The committee plans to hold hearings in January, February and March, Gowdy said.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the panel, said Gowdy has agreed to narrow the scope of the panel's investigation and set up rules governing its operation.

Gowdy said he and Cummings have not decided how to refine the Benghazi inquiry - which follows at least a half-dozen congressional and internal reviews - but said there was no reason to investigate facts that are not in dispute.

"Where there are areas of consensus, there's no need to go back into those areas," Gowdy told reporters Wednesday after a hearing of the Benghazi committee.

But Gowdy said the committee's mission remains important.

"We should not move on until there is a complete understanding of how the security environment described by our own government in court documents was allowed to exist," he said. "We should not move on until there is a complete understanding of why requests for additional security were denied, by whom they were denied and why an ambassador trusted to represent us in a dangerous country was not trusted when he asked for more security."

The special Benghazi panel is reviewing efforts to secure U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel as it continues investigating the September 2012 attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith, and two CIA contractors, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty. A Libyan extremist, Ahmed Abu Khatalla, is facing trial on murder charges after he was captured in Libya and taken to the U.S.

House Republicans have called for spending up to $3.3 million on the select committee, created in May to investigate all elements of the assault and its aftermath. Multiple independent, bipartisan and GOP-led inquiries have faulted the State Department for inadequate security in Benghazi, leading to four demotions.

Gregory Starr, an assistant secretary of state, said the department has implemented 25 of 29 recommendations made by an independent Accountability Review Board following the Benghazi attacks.

"Today we are safer and more secure because of the recommendations" of the Benghazi review board, Starr told the House panel. The State Department "has done an amazing job in enhancing the security of our people over the years. Clearly it is not perfect," Starr said.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, asked why the Obama administration has not created an undersecretary for diplomatic security, a higher-ranking post than Starr's current title. And Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., questioned whether officials were doing enough to train and vet local security officers in high-risk posts.

Starr agreed that threats have increased dramatically in recent years, but said U.S. officials throughout the world do the best they can in often difficult circumstances. "The United States cannot retreat from its work. Diplomacy must persist," he said.

The Intelligence Committee report found that the State Department facility where Stevens and Smith were killed was not well-protected, and that State Department security agents knew they could not defend it from a well-armed attack. Previous reports have found that requests for security improvements were not acted upon in Washington.

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Follow Matthew Daly on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC

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