BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican congressman who has aggressively championed an investigation into the Obama administration's handling of the recent attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya, told The Huffington Post on Monday that criticism of a House committee's decision to release sensitive State Department documents was little more than a smear campaign.
"That's right out of the Democrat playbook: Attack the messenger," said the Utah representative, who was working the post-debate spin room Monday night.
The documents released were part of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's ongoing investigation into the September assault on the Benghazi compound that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Republicans have accused the administration of failing to properly secure the compound and later misleading the public about what happened in the attack.
But this past Friday, the oversight committee, on which Chaffetz sits, came under stern rebuke from the State Department for its decision to make public more than 100 pages of internal government cables and other documents relating to the Libya attack. State Department officials told Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin, who first reported on the controversy, that the documents, while not classified, contained sensitive information, including the names of Libyan human rights activists and others who had worked with the U.S. government -- and whose names were not redacted by the committee.
Democrats spent much of the next few days piling additional criticism on the committee.
"This reckless and irresponsible release jeopardizes the lives and safety of our partners and their families," Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. "There is no justification for playing political games with our national security and the well-being of Libyans working with us to achieve a more secure future."
The degree to which the documents should be treated as sensitive had earlier come up in a meeting between State Department officials and members of the oversight committee. According to a transcript of that Oct. 9 meeting released by the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the panel's chairman dismissed as "crap" the administration's argument that documents marked "sensitive" or "for official use only" should not be made public.
"Anything below 'Secret' is in fact just a name on a piece of paper," the chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said according to the transcript. "And I think it is important to understand that. So if you have seen papers that say 'for official use only,' 'State Department sensitive,' that is crap."
On Sunday, Issa issued a statement defending his decision to release the documents. He said that least one of the human rights workers who the State Department said had been exposed by the publication was already publicly associated with the U.S. government because of a past trip to the U.S. sponsored by State.
"President Obama should be ashamed of yet another example where his administration has been caught trying to mislead the American people about what happened in Libya," Issa said.
Chaffetz, who had joined Issa in signing the letter that accompanied the released documents, told HuffPost on Monday that he had no regrets about making them public.
"They're all unclassified documents," he said.
"The only one who showed classified information was the State Department," he added, referring to a contentious moment during a recent oversight committee hearing when Chaffetz halted the proceedings to object to a State Department official's detailed description of the Benghazi compound's layout.
"It's borne itself out that, yeah, that was classified, and they shouldn't have raised it," Chaffetz told HuffPost.
Chaffetz also said he was not concerned that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney had avoided talking about the specifics of the Libya controversy during Monday's debate.
"Mitt Romney's goal was to paint a vision for the world. Mitt Romney was pitch perfect," Chaffetz said. "No doubt the administration still has so many unanswered questions, but the direction of the questions [in the debate] just wasn't going that way. I've got some questions though."