Last week, the House oversight committee posted 166 pages [PDF] of State Department communications from Libya. The documents were not classified, but they did contain the names of several Libyans who have been working various capacities with American officials in Libya. One of the names belonged to a human rights activist who reached out to the U.S. after she was arrested in Benghazi. An unnamed "administration official" complained to Foreign Policy that this woman wasn't "publicly associated with the U.S. in any other way but she's now named in this cable." Other names included militia commanders who had shared intelligence about the new interim government with State Department officials.
Democrats were quick to jump on the committee, and Chairman Darrell Issa in particular, on the weekend talks shows, accusing him of compromising intelligence agents and putting Libyans who help America in danger. David Axelrod said Issa was "carelessly, recklessly putting their lives at risk.” Former White House Chief of Staff and current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said "people around the world will now know that you’re at risk if you cooperate with the United States." Senators John Kerry and Dick Durban piled on as well.
Issa just as quickly fired back, accusing the administration of lying about the activist who was supposedly outed, saying that the State Department had actually bragged on the internet about flying her to the U.S. for meetings last December. He also said that the cooperation of many Libyans was not news to anyone and if the State Department cared so much about what was in the cables, they could have offered up redacted versions themselves, instead of stonewalling.
Naturally, both sides accuse the other of trying to politicize the tragedy of Benghazi, because ... well, both sides are doing exactly that. Issa can claim that Democrats are trying to "parade [the Libyans] out as part of their election campaign strategy," but no one would know who those Libyans were if Issa hadn't brought them up first in a Congressional investigation. That isn't to say Issa shouldn't be allowed to bring it up, since that's part of his job, but what the State Department does is political—as is everything else when a presidential election is two weeks away.
The final debate tonight is expected to spend a lot of time on Libya and the consulate attack and scoring political points is the whole game. The president hopes to push his advantage on foreign policy to separate himself from Mitt Romney, yet this one incident, poorly handled, threatens to derail his whole campaign. There was no way this was ever going to not be a political issue. After all, the one thing these people all have in common is that they are politicians.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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