WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate's number two Democrat and others in his party criticized a Republican House of Representatives committee chairman on Sunday for releasing government documents related to last month's violent attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
Senator Richard Durbin charged that Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, had politicized the Benghazi events during a presidential election campaign, in particular by releasing sensitive papers with the names of Libyans who have worked with the United States.
"This idea of Chairman Issa, that he's going to dump the names in public of Libyans who are risking their lives to support America and keep us safe in an effort to get a political toehold in this election is unconscionable. It is unacceptable," Durbin, the Senate's Democratic whip, told "Fox News Sunday."
David Axelrod, a campaign adviser to President Barack Obama, also blasted Issa, charging it was "disgraceful" that he had released government papers "to score political points in the final weeks before an election."
Issa released 166 pages of unclassified memos, diplomatic cables and other government documents related to the Benghazi mission on Friday as part of his committee's investigation of the attack in the eastern Libyan city. The papers were not classified, but some were diplomatic communications marked "sensitive."
The documents showed that U.S. officials in Libya sought more security resources for what they hoped would be a permanent American presence in Benghazi before the mission was attacked.
The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans were killed in the September 11 assault. The attack has turned into election-year fodder in the United States, with Republicans charging that the Obama administration was caught unprepared for the assault. Democrats accuse Republican challenger Mitt Romney and others in his party of trying to exploit tragic events for political gain.
A spokeswoman for Issa, Becca Watkins, said on Sunday that the documents had been circulated to State Department officials and committee Democrats almost two weeks ago and no one had expressed concern then about Libyans mentioned in them.
The cache of released papers included the names of some Libyans who had contact with American officials in Benghazi, such as a women's rights activist who had been briefly detained by local militia in the summer and told the Americans afterwards that she was scared.
"The committee did make a number of redactions to these unclassified documents and the Libyan individuals mentioned in them worked in positions where their interactions with westerners would not be surprising," Watkins said.
Some of the papers, such as the August 20 memo mentioning the woman's rights activist, had previously been released, having been handed out to media at an October 10 hearing of Issa's committee.
(Reporting By Susan Cornwell; Editing by David Brunnstrom)