Kerry pledges to answer Benghazi questions, laments 'misinformation'

WASHINGTON Tue Apr 30, 2013 3:27pm EDT

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 the United States September 11, 2012. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori

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 the United States September 11, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Esam Al-Fetori

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday pledged full cooperation with lawmakers' queries into last year's assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, while his spokesman dismissed reports that whistleblowers faced retaliation.

"We're prepared to work openly and accountably to answer any of those questions," Kerry told reporters.

"I'm determined that this will be an accountable and open State Department as it has been in the past and we will continue to provide answers," he said.

The assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi last September 11, in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed, was a big headache for President Barack Obama's administration during the November elections.

Some Republicans continue to assail Obama over security lapses, but also over the administration's conflicting early accounts of what happened.

On Tuesday, two senior Republican senators, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, reiterated their call for the Senate to set up a joint select committee to investigate the Obama administration's handling of the Benghazi attack.

"Revelations about witnesses being afraid to testify and military assets that could have been deployed in a timely fashion justify appointing a joint select committee," they said in a statement.

The senators were apparently referring to a Fox News report on Monday which quoted a former Justice Department lawyer, Victoria Toensing, as saying that one of her clients and other State Department officials had been threatened with career damage by unnamed Obama administration officials.

Asked about the report, Kerry said "there's been an enormous amount of misinformation out there."

While repeating a vow to cooperate with lawmakers, he added: "We have to demythologize this issue, and certainly depoliticize it."

Pressed on the allegation that would-be witnesses at the State Department faced threats, the department's deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said: "The State Department would never tolerate or sanction retaliation against whistleblowers on any issue, including this one."

(Reporting by Paul Eckert; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

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