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Congress to continue probes of Benghazi attacks

The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames during a protest by an armed group said to have been protesting a film being produced in th
The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames during a protest by an armed group said to have been protesting a film being produced in th

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Just because the election is over, that does not mean that U.S. President Barack Obama is going to get an easy ride over his administration's handling of the September 11 attacks on U.S. missions in Benghazi, Libya.

While Republican attacks on Obama over the handling of the assault, which killed four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, became a major part of the campaign in recent weeks, an investigator said on Wednesday the inquiry was never related to the election.

With majority control of the House of Representatives, Obama's Republican critics will continue to wield broad investigative powers, including the ability to subpoena evidence and testimony from administration officials.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which held a contentious hearing in early October on the Benghazi attacks, will continue its investigation, a spokesman for the committee said.

The Republican vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, said his panel would proceed with its review of the Benghazi attacks.

Investigators seek to understand "how terrorists were able to successfully breach our diplomatic facilities, why the administration obscured the role of al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists in its presentations to the American people, and why there appears to be a lack of urgency in finding and holding accountable those responsible for the deaths of four Americans," Chambliss wrote in an email to Reuters. He also said the investigation was never related to the campaign.

The office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who chairs the committee, could not be immediately reached for comment. Last month, Feinstein announced that the panel would hold a closed oversight hearing about Benghazi on November 15, with additional hearings to follow.

A spokesman for the White House had no comment on the Congressional inquiries and the State Department did not respond to an email requesting comment.

One step Capitol Hill investigators might take is to conduct on-site visits to Libya to pursue their inquiries, said a Republican Congressional aide.

Republicans also want to investigate the questions of who set a policy under which security measures at U.S. diplomatic posts in Libya were supposed to be inconspicuous and convey an appearance of normality, and what the Obama administration knew about the reliability of Libyan militias on which U.S. diplomats in Benghazi relied for security.

The aide said congressional investigators may also seek to examine whether security measures at other diplomatic posts in the region, and elsewhere around the world, match up to intelligence reporting on potential threats.

U.S. officials now acknowledge that in the months before the attacks, there was extensive intelligence reporting about the activities of Islamic militants in the Benghazi area. They also acknowledge that within hours of the Benghazi attacks, the U.S. had information indicating that people affiliated with three militant movements - Ansar al Sharia, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Egypt based Muhammad Jamal group - were likely involved in the attack.

During the final phase of the attack - in which mortar rounds were fired at the CIA's relatively well-fortified Benghazi base, killing two security officers - the attackers also managed within a space of a few minutes to adjust the aim of the mortar, indicating what multiple government officials said was some measure of skill or training on their part.

Before the election, some Republicans harshly attacked the Obama administration for making public statements that played up the possibility - subsequently discredited by intelligence reports - that the assaults were a spontaneous protest against a U.S. made anti-Islamic video, while playing down the involvement of militants.

(Editing by Paul Eckert and Carol Bishopric)

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