Alex Pappas is a Washington D.C.-based political reporter for The Daily Caller. He has also written for The Washington Examiner and the Mobile Press-Register. Pappas is a graduate of The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., where he was editor-in-chief of The Sewanee Purple. While in college, he did internships at NBC’s Meet the Press and the White House. He grew up in Mobile, Ala., where he graduated from St. Paul’s Episcopal School. He and his wife live on Capitol Hill.
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.”
JAN. 22, 2015, 12:24 PM
Correction: this post originally states that the Benghazi Central Bank branch had $100 billion in cash and gold inside. In fact, the number in the New York Times report referred to the Libyan Central Bank’s total reserves, and not to the amount stored in Benghazi. The post has been updated to reflect this fact, and we regret the error.
Fighters loyal to a renegade general in Libya just seized a Central Bank facility in the coastal city of Benghazi according to The New York Times.
Libya’s ongoing civil war has split the country between an Islamist-supported central government based in Tripoli and a rival nationalist administration held together by the renegade general Khalifa Hifter and based in the eastern city of Tobruk.
But the country had a couple of remaining bright spots, including Africa’s largest proven oil reserves, an oil industry positioned just across the Mediterranean Sea from western Europe, and a reported $113 billion in foreign currency in mid-2014, according to Al Hayat.
This was down from the $321 billion in reserves from before the country’s 2011 uprising but was still enough to ensure that salaries would be paid and that the country’s oil infrastructure would continue to function. According to the Times report, the Central Bank now has around $100 billion in reserves.
Earlier this month, an oil facility in Es Sider burned for several days after being struck by an errant rocket, wiping out oil stocks equivalent to more than 36 hours’ worth of nationwide production. And Thursday, Hifter’s fighters seized the Libyan central bank’s Benghazi branch, with billions potentially inside.
As David Kirkpatrick of The Times reported, the central bank was one of Libya’s last functioning public institutions. Its governor, Sadik el-Kabir, had traveled abroad to reassure foreign leaders of the integrity of the Libyan state during the ongoing crisis while the bank has succeeded in paying out salaries and keeping the country’s oil infrastructure functional. It has also kept its headquarters in Tripoli, despite the Benghazi branch’s presence in the part of the country controlled by Hifter’s self-declared government.
Even so, Kirkpatrick says, the Benghazi office had been considered to be outside of politics, and the various combatants in the city — which include a constellation of Islamist militias — had largely left the facility alone.
But Thursday, Hifter’s militia seized the building from the Tripoli-government-allied Islamists guarding it. According to the Times report, Hifter’s men have “posted video images online that appeared intended to show that they had not broken into the vaults, at least not yet.”
Hifter wants to let the government in Tripoli know that he could control most of the country’s remaining cash and gold reserves if he wanted to.
But in the process, he has shown that there is a highly vulnerable payoff sitting in the middle of Benghazi’s stateless vacuum.