A State Department witness was confronted during a Capitol Hill hearing on Tuesday about his past comments questioning the motives of conservatives for investigating the 2012 terrorist attacks against Americans in Benghazi.
During a hearing of the Benghazi Select Committee, Illinois GOP Rep. Peter Roskam repeatedly questioned Joel M. Rubin, the deputy assistant secretary for House affairs, about past op-eds he authored suggesting that Republicans were only investigating the attacks for partisan reasons.
“You don’t think that this a frivolous, partisan investigation, do you?” Roskam asked Rubin Tuesday.
Last year, lawmakers in the House passed a bill to establish the new committee to investigate the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya that left four Americans dead, including Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
Roskam was referring to op-eds written by Rubin in 2012 where he argued Republicans were using the attacks for “political advantage.” (Rubin was in the private sector at the time, and wasn’t appointed to his current State Department position until last year).
“Rather than supporting a serious, nonpartisan investigation into what took place and what went wrong, waiting to get all the facts out, conservatives are trying to affix blame for their deaths for political advantage,” Rubin wrote in one 2012 op-ed for the Huffington Post.
Rubin also wrote in another Huffington Post op-ed that “there are those who are attempting to use Chris’ death to promote their own political agendas. Chris wouldn’t have supported that. Chris understood that he was living in a volatile place. He knew the risks. And he would never engage in finger pointing about tragic events such as the one that caused him to leave us.”
During Tuesday’s hearing, Rubin appeared visibly annoyed by the questioning from Roskam.
“Chris Stevens was a friend of mine,” he said. “I worked on Capitol Hill alongside Chris.”
When Roskam pressed him again on the question, Rubin replied: “Sir, I’m not commenting on the question of if it’s a partisan frivolous investigation because you’re reciting what I wrote in 2012 when I was not in the government.”
Again, Roskam repeated his inquiry, calling it a “simple question.”
“Sir, again, in 2012, after Chris Stevens was killed – and I remember because I was a friend — I remember when his name was announced on the radio and my heart sank to my feet,” Rubin said. “Because I knew Chris. And he represented the best of the State Department, the best of America. And I’m sorry sir, his name at that time was not being used in the manner I thought respected his memory.”
Pressed again, Rubin replied that the State Department had been cooperative with the committee. But Roskam wasn’t pleased with the answer.
“I find it shocking that you can’t give a straight answer to that simple question,” the congressman told him, “and you’re not going to give it to me, so let’s move on.”
The question is significant because the committee is asking Rubin’s department for documents about the attacks as they conduct their own probe.
The committee, chaired by Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, convened a hearing Tuesday on the “status of outstanding requests” for information from the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department.
“Our responsibility, as set forth by the House Resolution, is to produce the definitive report on what happened before, during and after the attacks in Benghazi so we can help keep our fellow Americans safe, Gowdy said ahead of the hearing. “We cannot do our job without obtaining a complete record of the events. This hearing speaks to the broader issue of ensuring executive branch transparency, accountability and timely cooperation with congressional oversight.”
Watch video of the exchange here: