WASHINGTON — One of the big topics on Capitol Hill last week was the ongoing investigation into the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. And members of Maine’s congressional delegation — including one who isn’t even an official member yet — were in the thick of the discussion.
Maine’s two Republican senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, serve on Senate committees that are probing the September attacks that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Collins made headlines Tuesday morning when she said it was “absolutely imperative” that former CIA Director David Petraeus testify to Congress, despite his recent resignation amid a scandal over an extramarital affair. Petraeus appeared before congressional committees late in the week.
But Collins also made news when she said a Watergate-style investigation was unnecessary and, in the process, appeared to “ding” fellow Republican Sen. John McCain, of Arizona, for missing a closed-door briefing on Benghazi. McCain was holding a news conference on his desire for a special select committee during the briefing to the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
NBC reported that McCain “made his displeasure to Collins known” the following day. And Collins later clarified her earlier, “inartfully” made point.
“All I was trying to point out is that he’s a very valuable member of our committee, so he would be involved in all the briefings, the hearings and investigation,” Collins told NBC. “And thus, I don’t think that it’s necessary to create a whole new separate committee. Our committee has a history of doing independent, bipartisan, comprehensive across-the-board investigations.”
Maine Sen.-elect Angus King, meanwhile, added his thoughts on whether Susan Rice’s statements on Benghazi should disqualify her for the secretary of state job. McCain and other Republicans have vowed to oppose Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, over the statements suggesting the attacks may have been tied to protests over an anti-Islamic video.
“I watched some of those comments yesterday and I don’t really like starting out my Senate career — I’m not even sworn in yet — getting crosswise with some of the leaders of the other party. But I thought it was a bit premature,” King, an independent, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program.
Snowe was slated to talk about Benghazi on CBS’ Sunday morning news program, “Face the Nation” with Bob Schieffer. Snowe participated in several closed-door briefings on Benghazi in recent days as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Earlier in the week, Snowe was withholding judgment on whether a select committee was necessary. But she was critical of the lack of answers or progress on bringing the attackers to justice.
In the mid-1980s, Snowe helped develop legislation that established the U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service to oversee security of State Department facilities worldwide following a surge in attacks on U.S. facilities abroad.
“But, frankly, it’s inconceivable to me that we would not have provided the necessary resources to provide for the protection and defense of that consulate,” Snowe told the Portland Press Herald. “That was the purpose of the initial law creating the bureau to begin with because we had a lapse in security that ultimately led to attacks on our embassies and on our men and women.”
In search of lost records
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District, is asking leading defense officials for answers to how the military lost, destroyed or failed to keep combat records for many incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Such records can provide important documentation for veterans later seeking treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs. A joint investigation by ProPublica and The Seattle Times found lax record-keeping for some units in the two wars.
In a letter sent Friday to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Michaud asked for information on how the departments plan to address the loss of the records and on steps being put in place to ensure proper record-keeping.
“Our service members and veterans depend on your agencies and Congress to protect them in battle and to care for them at home,” wrote Michaud, a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “We cannot allow these lost records to lead to the same gaps in knowledge and care that our Vietnam veterans face with Agent Orange and our First Gulf War veterans face with medically unexplained illnesses.”
Now that the presidential race is over, Maine’s two senators are urging Senate leaders to take up a Maine federal judicial nomination that has been stalled for months due to election-year politics.
Senate Republicans have blocked votes on circuit court judgeships since the summer under a decades-old “rule” that has been employed by both parties when they were in the minority. The theory behind the so-called “Thurmond Rule” is that if the party’s presidential nominee wins the White House, the new president would likely nominate a different person for the post.
Cape Elizabeth attorney William Kayatta, who was nominated for the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, is one of the individuals stuck in political limbo.
Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins — both Republicans — had bucked their party leadership and voted in July to move forward with circuit court nominations. Last week, the pair called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to take up the judicial nominees.
“The First Circuit bench is small — it has only six active judges — so any single vacancy hits it disproportionately hard,” Collins wrote in a letter to Reid and McConnell.
“In short, there is simply no good reason for his nomination to remain on the Executive Calendar when the Senate could easily and quickly confirm him to fill a vacancy on the nation’s smallest circuit court of appeals,” Snowe wrote in a separate letter.
Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at [email protected]