WASHINGTON, May 17, 2013 - Recent developments in the Benghazi investigation now bring Speaker John Boehner front and center – making him and his whips the lead story. With a nod, the Speaker can elevate the Benghazi investigation to where it belongs – to a select committee – to hopefully end the partisanship surrounding this issue. So far, Speaker Boehner has declined to call for a select committee.
Today, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which is comprised of 26,000 members, and represents Diplomatic Security officers at the State Department, sent a letter to Congressman Wolf endorsing a select committee.
On May 9, 2012, Congressman Frank Wolf, the sponsor of House Resolution 36 that calls for a select committee to investigate the September 11, 2012 Benghazi attack, also sent a letter to Speaker Boehner asking him to bring HR 36 to the floor for a vote.
Congressman Wolf first introduced this resolution on December 4, 2012 to the 112th Congress, and re-introduced it in the 113th Congress on January 18, 2013. As of today, 154 Republican members of Congress have signed on as co-sponsors, two-thirds of the House Republican membership. Many Republican members of the five jurisdictional committees are part of the 154 co-sponsors. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham also renewed their request for a select committee.
This followed the riveting, compelling, and credible testimony by three veteran American officials – Gregory Hicks, Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Libya, Mark Thompson, U.S. Department of State Counterterrorism Operations official, and Eric Nordstrom, the Reginonal Security Officer in Libya until July 2012.
More questions emerged after their testimony. What exactly was happening at the National Security Council, as well as the Secretary of State’s Chief of Staff and Counselor’s office on September 11, 2012, and Office of Public Affairs the night of, and days after? Why haven’t the FBI and DOD counterparts to Mark Thompson at State Department come forward on the record if they too believe that FEST – Foreign Emergency Support Team – should have been deployed?
It is not enough that CBS News reports that that sources within the Obama administration wish they sent the FEST Team, and contacted the Counterterrorism Security Group. Get them under oath, and ask them who blocked these decisions?
After Hicks, Thompson and Nordstrom testified, Lisa Myers of NBC, a seasoned investigative reporter, stated that the Obama administration was questioning Hicks’ veracity. As liberal Donny Deutsch and conservative Joe Scarborough stated on MSNBC, and this liberal journalist concurs, that is a dangerous slope, but not unusual for this administration. When all else fails, attack the messenger. Not new in the Benghazi arena since September 2012.
Days after the attack, State Department officials attacked CNN for collecting Ambassador Steven’s diary at the compound in Benghazi. That attack against CNN was unfounded, and out of line. As I said to one of my former CNN colleagues at the time, “best journalism CNN has done in a while, and you know they will hammer you,” and State did. That diary proved then that there was a clear understanding by Ambassador Stevens that he knew the situation was deteriorating, and he was at risk. That proved invaluable as one of the first cracks in the administration’s public narrative that this was a spontaneous protest over an internet video, and served as the catalyst for the Benghazi attack.
Hicks testified that he received a phone call from Secretary Clinton at 2 a.m. Libya time (8 p.m. EDT) during the attack. Hicks stated that Secretary Clinton never asked him about the genesis of the attack during that phone call. Hours earlier, Hicks and his staff had already communicated to the State Department Operations Command Center that it was an attack, that Ansar Al Sharia was claiming credit, and that they were threatening to attack the U.S. Embassy in Libya.
The significance of this phone call is that only two hours later, the U.S. State Department published a press release, which first mentions the internet video and that only one official – presumably, Sean Smith – had perished. At that moment, the internet video narrative was in play on the public stage, and continued to be for days after.
While Congress and the media are focused on the talking points, and White House is responding defensively, the focus should not just be on who, why and how the talking points were changed, but who wrote and approved the State Department September 11, 2012 press release before Ambassador Stevens was located, and Ty Woods and Glen Doherty were killed? Hicks testified that the internet video was a non-event in Libya, and that Ambassador Steven’s last words to Hicks were, “We are under attack.”
On September 12, 2012, Secretary Clinton also mentioned the internet video in the Treaty room while her staff briefed reporters, but seemed to back off the video. But it did not stop the State Department from mentioning the video in the ad that State Department placed on Pakistan television on September 20, 2012.
For months, the media has been asking why Stevens would go to Benghazi when the situation was deteriorating, and there was a reduction in security for US officials in Libya. According to Hicks, it was because one of Secretary Clinton’s goals was to have a permanent consulate in Benghazi, and she wanted to announce it during her October 2012 trip to Libya. It must have been important because Stevens was scheduled to appear in a State Department public service announcement, and he cancelled it because of this trip to Benghazi.
That raises interesting questions. Why would the Secretary of State wish to make the Benghazi facility permanent when her on-site regional security officials had been reporting the deteriorating situation for months and requesting more security, and repeatedly was denied? Who would want to make a facility permanent in a deteriorating situation with less than needed security in the first place? Where is the logic in this?
For months, it has been known that Congressman Jason Chaffetz arrived in Stuttgart, Germany on October 5, 2012 to meet with General Carter Ham, head of AFRICOM. Then they flew to Tripoli, Libya for a day trip on October 6, 2012, and met with American and Libyan officials.
In an interview with this journalist a few months ago, Congressman Chaffetz stated that no one mentioned a video to him on this trip. He did state that an attorney from State Department showed up. A few weeks ago, Speaker Boehner’s staffer called this attorney a “minder,” and dismissed his significance. Other sources have protractedly refused to reveal this attorney’s name.
Hicks testified that this attorney was in Tripoli during this trip, and this attorney was excluded from a classified briefing because this attorney did not possess appropriate clearances, just as Congressman Chaffetz stated in his interview. Why is this so important?
It reeks of the model every journalist witnessed during Whitewater and the Lewinsky investigations – the lawyering up to hold onto the narratives. Those journalists who are too young, or did not cover those stories, have few reference points to understand the significance of the lawyering up strategy emboldened by the Clinton administration political posturing.
For those of us who do, it is significant that State Department or perhaps, Ms. Mills, Secretary Clinton’s Chief of Staff, or her boss, would send an attorney to Tripoli on October 6, 2012. Several former U.S. Ambassadors were asked, “Is that normal? Does that catch your eye?” All say it is not normal. Hicks testified to its unusual nature and even to the unusual nature of Ms. Mills’ negative reaction because the attorney was excluded from the classified briefing. But, that did not stop Ms. Mills. She wanted Hicks to tell her what happened in that classified briefing.
After the attack, the Libyan government did not allow the FBI to go to Benghazi. Now, through Hicks’ testimony, we discover the reason was because of Susan Rice’s statements about the internet video and spontaneous protests on September 16, 2012, which directly contradicted President of Libya, Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf’s public statement the same day.
We discovered that a State Department September 2012 email confirms a conversation between Barbara Jones of the State Department and the former Libyan Ambassador to the United States. The conversation focused upon Ansar Al Sharia being the attackers. Hicks testified that he believed that there may have been an ambush afoot on the night of the attack at the Benghazi hospital, which was controlled by this terrorist group.
Following the attack, Secretary Clinton announced the Accountability Review Board investigation. By October 6, 2012, it was underway. So, why would a State Department attorney, sent by Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s counselor, or her boss, go to Tripoli? Why would Cheryl Mills call Hicks after the attorney was excluded from a classified briefing in Tripoli on October 6, 2012? Why would Mills ask the Deputy Chief of Mission about that classified briefing? Perhaps, because Cheryl Mills was advising some of those testifying before the Oversight Committee on October 10, 2012. We learned that from witness Eric Nordstrom.
Perhaps, as part of the former legal defense team for the Clinton impeachment in 1998, and recognized as an asset to that team, Mills thought it best to hear what Chaffetz was being told because Chaffetz sits on the Oversight committee. Eric Nordstrom, Lt. Colonel Andy Woods, Patrick Kennedy, and Charlene Lamb were going to testify before the Oversight Committee on October 10, 2012. And, on October 9, 2012, on a conference call, State Department officials briefed reporters about the upcoming Oversight hearing the following day.
At this very time in early October 2012, there were three ongoing investigations – Oversight committee, Accountability Review Board, and FBI. It seems inconceivable to this journalist that the value of these investigative threads is lost on Speaker Boehner and his whips.
It seems even stranger that Hicks was interviewed prior to the release of Speaker Boehner’s interim report a few weeks ago, and yet, his admissions were not included in Boehner’s interim report. Could it be that Speaker Boehner is playing politics with this investigation, or is it that the congressional investigators of all five committees are so far apart on sharing information that they miss valuable threads of information? Or, is it because Speaker Boehner and possibly, Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers are afraid the public may know what exactly was going on in Benghazi since the shop was set up in early 2011 prior to Stevens’ arrival?
However you shake this, Thompson, Hicks, and Nordstrom’s testimonies further prove that a select committee is needed now.
A select committee has subpoena power. It will not cost $2 million as some critics are suggesting. It will use existing staff. It will be laser-focused and won’t be distracted with immigration, Syria/Israel, Boston bombing, AP and IRS investigations. The select committee would serve as a vehicle to get to the bottom of the Benghazi attack. This country deserves it, but more importantly, the families of the fallen and the injured deserve it.
Several weeks ago, I interviewed Charlie Woods, Ty Wood’s father. I had the pleasure of accompanying him to meet members of Congress. I witnessed him showing pictures of Ty as a baby, young father, soldier, and hero. Every republican and democratic member demonstrated a concern to get to the truth. President Obama and Secretary Clinton promised him that they would get to the truth when he met them the day his son’s body was flown back to the United States. That never happened.
Woods returned to Washington to hear the latest hearings. As a retired attorney and administrative judge, he understands the difference between reports and testimony – between paper and people. To get to the bottom of this, we need testimony from those on the ground and in critical positions, and the only way to accomplish that is what the legal profession calls a fast-track - a select committee, just as Congressman Frank Wolf called for months ago. As a liberal journalist, shame on every democrat who has not signed on for this select committee. This is no witch hunt. This is so stonewalling. This investigation has been about a blackout on every front up until the latest hearing, and the country is no way near fully informed.
Speaker Boehner needs to lead on this issue. Charlie Woods repeatedly stated to members, “What would you have done if that were your child in Benghazi?” We all know what we would do if the shoe were on the other foot. We would demand answers. This country has a right to demand the truth on Benghazi – however long it takes, and whosever career it affects.
Speaker Boehner did not have time to meet with Woods when he was in Washington, D.C. several weeks ago. But, the day after Woods met with a member of the Speaker’s staff, Mr. Boehner held a press conference on Benghazi in the Radio & Television Gallery. I felt bad for Mr. Woods as we were being escorted through the tunnels of the Congress passing the gallery where Boehner’s name was posted for his 11:30 a.m. press conference. Boehner could meet with the press, but not the father of an American hero who just wanted to know the truth about why his son was not rescued. Later, Boehner went on FOX and stated that the investigation had not risen to the level of a select committee at that point. If not now, when, Mr. Speaker? It has risen to that level and beyond. Encouraging House Whips like Congressman Kevin McCarthy to stop members from co-sponsoring is really not a wise decision. The wisest decision is to sit the select committee.
Christine Dolan is an Investigative Journalist and television producer. She has worked for ABC News, CNN as Political Director, served as Managing Director of an international policy series, and covered human trafficking and terrorism worldwide for the last 13 years.
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