[Above image: Rep. Trey Gowdy, Chairman of House Select Committee on Benghazi]
Most of the work done by the House Select Committee on Benghazi is happening behind closed doors. Today, Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. announced that members have just wrapped up a classified briefing with State Department officials.
“The Department of State provided new information to the committee and answered questions raised by committee members,” said Gowdy in a press statement.
In addition to questioning State Department officials, the Benghazi Committee has had a closed-door meeting with Justice Department officials regarding document product and potential witnesses.
So far, the committee isn’t tipping its hand as to what information has been gleaned. Gowdy confirms there will be public hearings in the future, but that the bulk of the effort will be done “in classified settings or through investigative techniques that do not lend themselves to public hearings.”
Democrats have said that continued inquiries about the September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya constitute “a witch hunt.” They point out there have been seven investigations to date, and that Gowdy’s committee is providing an eighth.
Gowdy says, [quote]“The committee is continuing its probe into all aspects of Benghazi and is currently focused on ensuring access to all first-hand accounts from those on the ground that night. This process will be ongoing and in some respects must remain classified.”–Benghazi Select Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.[/quote]
Gowdy also reports the committee held a closed-door meeting with the Department of Justice regarding document production and potential witnesses related to the committee’s ongoing probe. He went on to say while the bulk of the committee’s work will have to be done in classified settings or through investigative techniques that do not lend themselves to public hearings, he still plans to hold more public hearings.
A House Intelligence Committee report recently concluded that no orders using the words “stand down” were given to intelligence officers the night of the Benghazi attacks. However, it stated that would-be rescuers were directed to “wait” for a short period of time when they wanted to depart immediately to help. Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Republican, acknowledged that the committee’s findings on that point are at odds with testimony from first-hand participants who claimed they were given “stand down” orders (using those words).
A number of news reports portrayed critical analyses of what went wrong as “dark conspiracy theories,” and claimed the Intelligence Committee report “dismissed the bulk of the most damning [criticisms] against the administration” and “cleared the administration of wrong doing.” One news report stated that the report “utterly destroys everything right-wing conspiracy theorists have been pushing for more than two years about the deadly attack…literally every accusation has been debunked. No exceptions.”
In fact, the House Intelligence Committee report was, in many respects, the opposite of those descriptions. As the report and Chairman Rogers stated: since the report focused on the intelligence community, it was not a comprehensive examination of the many controversies. It generally did not attempt to examine, indict or exonerate actions by the White House, the State Department or the military.
Written by the committee that conducts oversight of the intelligence community–and works closely with it– the report portrayed actions of the intelligence community in a positive light stating that there was no intelligence failure on the intelligence community’s part.
But it also verified many long-standing accusations: the Obama administration’s many accounts blaming a YouTube video were incorrect, “there was no protest,” the State Department ignored warnings and denied security requests, none of the witnesses interviewed ever thought the attacks were anything other than the work of terrorists (though Obama officials maintained otherwise), some Obama officials gave incomplete and incorrect information and testimony, the State Department was ill-prepared for attacks, that the CIA provided prior warnings of a likely attack in Benghazi (though not a specific time and date), the talking points furthered by U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice were incorrect (though the committee says it did not have access to information to determine what she personally knew prior to speaking on the talking points).
The House Benghazi Committee was formed last year after the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch obtained internal government emails that had been withheld from Congress, though subpoenaed. One of the emails showed that White House adviser Ben Rhodes wanted to ensure the underlying public message provided after the attacks would “underscore that these protests are rooted in [an] Internet video, and not a broad failure or policy.” Another email revealed then-CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell played a major role in altering the so-called “talking points,” which removed mention of al-Qaeda, terrorism and prior warnings provided to the State Department. Morell had kept his role in drafting the talking point changes secret, though questioned about it by members of Congress.
A year and a half after the attacks, an internal government email revealed that the morning after Sept. 11, 2012, the State Department informed Libya that the attacks were the work of terrorists–at the same time the Obama administration was publicly saying it was the result of a spontaneous protest.
In an exclusive story for CBS News in May of 2013, I reported that Obama officials acknowledged many mistakes but claimed they were more the result of incompetence than malice.
Last fall, former State Department official Raymond Maxwell stepped forward to reveal that he witnessed what he called a “document sorting” session at State Department headquarters in the basement shortly after September 11, 2012, after a call to turn over documents. Maxwell, a Democrat who donated to President Obama’s campaign, claimed the operation appeared to be supervised by top aides to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Some Republican Senators have pressed to join the House investigation into Benghazi by forming a joint select committee, but there has been no public response from Republican leadership, which would have to make such a decision.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, has said that Gowdy wants to put the Obama administration on trial and accused Republicans of using Benghazi to “score cheap political points.”
“It has been obvious that the GOP’s obsession with Benghazi has never been about getting to the truth of what happened or preventing future attacks against U.S. personnel overseas,” said Boxer.
Last fall, Democrats portrayed the work of the Benghazi Committee as a waste of time, claiming there are no outstanding questions or conflicts. The committee’s top Democrat Elijah Cummings stated, [quote]“The point is that these questions have been investigated and answered.”–Elijah Cummings, D-Md.[/quote]
Democrats say the investigation to date has been exhaustive, including:
• 9 Congressional committee investigations
• 17 hearings
• 50 briefings
• 25 transcribed interviews
• 8 subpoenas
• 25,000 pages of documents reviewed
However, as each investigation has looked at different pieces of Benghazi events, new information has come to light. Much of it has directly contradicted original information released by the Obama administration.
“Since all documents responsive to congressional inquiries into the Benghazi terrorist attack have not been produced, it is fair to say that not all questions have been asked and answered,” a committee spokesman responded, at the time.
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