Rep. Trey Gowdy came out swinging at Tuesday’s hearing of his Select Committee, laying into Democrats for playing political games and blasting the State Department for refusing to produce documents and for preventing witnesses from testifying before the committee.
As the hearing began, Gowdy had to cut off his microphone to conduct a private conversation with ranking Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who has been carrying the administration’s water consistently.
While the two men remained personally cordial to each other, the “comity” of earlier hearings was gone.
On Monday, Gowdy released a scathing letter to Cummings that set the table for Tuesday’s hearing.
In it, he blasted Cummings and the Democrats for paying lip service to the need of a bipartisan investigation into the Benghazi terrorist attacks, all the while some Democrats, “some as recently as last week, have stated on many occasions they believe this Committee serves no purpose, as everything relating to Benghazi has already been asked and answered.”
By putting up a website called “Asked and Answered” before the Select Committee had even held its first hearing, the Democrats “instantly prejudged facts that are not yet in evidence,” Gowdy wrote.
The State Department recently turned over 15,000 of new documents in addition to the 25,000 produced in response to multiple document requests from other committees over the past two years. “These documents include significantly more traffic from State Department leadership than in previously provided information to Congress,” Gowdy noted in his opening statement.
At the hearing, the State Department’s liaison officer to Congress said that more documents would be produced in the coming days, including emails from Secretary of State Clinton – giving the lie to oft-repeated Democrat claims that everything relating to Benghazi was already on the public record.
Many of the so-called answers the Democrats provide to nagging questions on Benghazi answer nothing at all.
Where was the President and what did he do on the night of the attacks? That is a good question. The Democrats’ answer on their Benghazi Asked and Answered website? Why, he was at the White House, just as we always said he was. Doing what? Mystery.
Or how about the most asked question of them all, did anyone in the administration issue a “stand down” order that prevented a military rescue?
In a classic straw man argument, the Democrats accuse Republicans of claiming that Secretary of State Clinton personally “ordered” Defense Secretary Panetta to “stand down” an ongoing rescue attempt. That obviously didn’t happen; and no credible source has alleged that.
But as I revealed in Dark Forces: The Truth About What Happened in Benghazi, two very real stand-down orders were issued that night by Secretary Clinton, apparently in tandem with John Brennan at the White House, which had the effect of slow-rolling the government response to the crisis.
•They refused to convene the Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG), the only structured, experienced, interagency reaction team that could have decided which resources of the government were available for deployment immediately.
•They refused to activate the State Department-led Foreign Emergency Support Team (FEST), an extraordinary operational unit on call 24/7 that included special operations troops and its own airlift, which could have secured the compound and the Annex and prevented the loss of classified data.
In addition, the President himself, by not personally taking charge of rescue efforts, never stood up the government’s vast national security apparatus, letting lower level officials treat the attacks as a garden variety crisis in some diplomatic backwater.
The letter exchanges between Gowdy and Cummings, as well as Tuesday’s hearings, should put to rest forever the fiction that this type of investigation can be conducted in some Nirvana-zone of bipartisan comity.
We have learned, for example, that Gowdy and his staff have indeed been interviewing witnesses – contrary to Democrats’ public statements that the committee is covering no new ground – but often has not invited Democrats to these meetings.
Gowdy explained that this was necessary to prevent Democrats from attempts to “characterize their testimony for political gain,” as Cummings has done.
Since many of the witnesses the Select Committee needs to interview still work in the Executive Branch, leaks of this sort have become “a major deterrent for other individuals who may be contemplating speaking voluntarily to the Committee,” Gowdy added.
Tuesday’s fireworks revealed the increasing unease among Democrats as the Benghazi Select Committee gets closer to the real truth of what led up to the attacks, what happened during the attacks, and how the administration sought to cover its tracks afterwards.
“Is this about gun-running?” Rep. Adam Schiff (D, WA) asked at one point.
Yes, Congressman, it is about gun-running, despite all the claims to the contrary from the disgraced former chairman of the House intelligence committee, Mike Rogers.
We know, for example, that the State Department was engaged in efforts to collect some 15,000 surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS) that had gone missing from Qaddafi’s arsenals. Secretary Clinton herself touted that effort during a visit to Libya before the Benghazi attacks.
The White House sent two National Security staffers to Libya to supervise the MANPADS collection effort, even as several thousand missiles were collected then turned over in Libya to known jihadi leaders.
As I revealed in Dark Forces, at least 400 of those missiles were smuggled into Agadiz, Niger, where they were upgraded with CIA-supplied batteries and new gripstocks, then were shipped to al Qaeda-affiliated groups around the world.
YouTube videos and still photographs of the missiles, with their distinctive colors, showed them in the hands of jihadi groups in Syria and beyond.
Was Ambassador Stevens instructed to establish a communications backchannel to the National Security Staff via the CIA Chief of Station in Tripoli to report on this and other covert intelligence activities in Libya? That’s the suggestion that appears in an overlooked section of the Republican Additional Views to the December 2014 Senate intelligence committee report on CIA interrogations.
The Committee needs to investigate U.S. assistance to the anti-Qaddafi rebels, in particular, the “liaison” relationships between the CIA and foreign intelligence services who were bringing weapons into Libya. Did the CIA withdraw Stinger missiles from Camp Arifjan or other U.S. stockpiles in the Middle East and transfer them to Qatar so they could be brought into Libya, as multiple sources reported to me in Dark Forces?
Even more important, the Committee needs to investigate what the CIA knew about Iran’s intelligence and operational presence on the ground in Benghazi. Sources on Ambassador Steven’s security detail told me they were briefed on the aggressive Iranian presence already in June 2012. Other sources mentioned the existence of 50 to 60 intelligence reports on Iran’s activities in Libya at the time.
If that is the case, then former CIA deputy director Mike Morell knowingly lied in public when specifically asked about this during a speaking engagement in Florida last September. What else is Morell covering up?
These questions just scratch the surface of what hasn’t been asked, or answered.
Thankfully, as Gowdy himself said at the end of the two hour hearing on Tuesday, the southern politeness and the gloves are off. “We’re going to ratchet it up.”
About time, Congressman. Now bring it on.
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