The Benghazi slow-walk: How to drag out an investigation for maximum political impact

Trey Gowdy's committee has been overloading the Pentagon with interview requests and hunting down Hannity callers

Published May 2, 2016 9:57AM (EDT)

Trey Gowdy   (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
Trey Gowdy (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

At some point over the next few months, the House Select Committee on Benghazi will release its final report and we’ll finally get to see what committee chair Trey Gowdy and his pals have been up to these past two years. It’s been difficult to suss out precisely what the committee has been doing given that (contrary to Gowdy’s promises) it hasn’t held many public hearings, and the one “Interim Progress Update” it released last May focused largely on complaining about the pace at which executive branch agencies responded to the committee’s requests. That is actually a common theme in the statements released by the committee’s majority members, who insist that the only reason the investigation has taken this long is that the Obama administration keeps dragging its feet and refusing to produce documents and witnesses in a timely fashion.

Gowdy and the other Republicans make this claim to rebut allegations that the committee’s work has been deliberately pushed into an election cycle that features Hillary Clinton as the likely Democratic presidential nominee. Despite the boasting of Republican leaders in Congress, Gowdy maintains that his committee has no political motivation and is focused only on conducting a thorough inquiry focused solely on the facts. Well, another bit of evidence emerged this week that undermines Gowdy’s case and gives clues as to how the committee has abused its authority to drag out the investigation.

Stephen C. Hedger, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs, wrote a letter to Gowdy regarding the “recent crescendo of requests” the Pentagon had received from the Benghazi committee. As Hedger writes, the committee has been flooding the Defense Department with repeated and evolving requests for documents and witnesses:

In February 2016, nearly 22 months after the establishment of the Committee, DoD lawyers met with Committee staff to receive what was represented to be a final list of requests for the Department. That list, however, continued to expand in February and March. Because of this, DoD Lawyers met with your staff a second time, on March 31, 2016, to establish a new final list of requests, but additional requests have continued to follow. Most recently, on Friday, April 22, 2016, your staff requested interviews of four additional service members never previously mentioned to the Department. These requests were in addition to the ten interviews and two briefings the Department has scheduled at your staff’s request since early February 2016, and are added to a list of nearly a dozen other individuals your staff has requested in the last three months.

“We are concerned by the continuous threat from your staff to subpoena witnesses because we are not able to move quickly enough to accommodate these new requests,” Hedger adds. If you’re looking for a way to delay an inquiry, this stands out as a pretty effective method – just keep making new and increasingly urgent requests for witnesses, documents, whatever. It overwhelms the responding agency, which can’t possibly prioritize everything and will be hard-pressed to satisfy every request at once. Gowdy and his colleagues, meanwhile, get to complain that the executive branch isn’t jumping through their hoops fast enough.

The obvious retort to all this is that they need to know everything, they’re running down all the angles, and no scrap of information can be considered irrelevant when you’re talking about the deaths of four Americans, including a U.S. ambassador. Well, Hedger’s letter gets into that too, highlighting instances in which the Benghazi committee has urgently demanded witnesses and information of seemingly little value or importance.

He writes that Gowdy and the Republican majority insisted that the Pentagon immediately locate “four pilots who could have been – but were not – deployed to Benghazi that night,” and then dropped the request after the Defense Department began making inquiries. The committee Republicans demanded the government find “an individual who claimed on his Facebook page that he had been a mechanic at an air base in Europe the night of the attack.” And, best of all, Gowdy’s just-the-facts investigation demanded to interview a guy who called into Sean Hannity’s radio program claiming to be a drone camera operator who saw the drone video feed of the Benghazi attacks. When the Pentagon couldn’t find him, the Benghazi committee demanded to interview every drone pilot on duty in the region that night (even though the committee had already obtained access to the Benghazi drone camera footage).

Aside from the fact that these requests seem duplicative and frivolous, they also indicate that Gowdy’s committee is busily chasing down long-since disproven conspiracy theories – namely that forces were available to reach Benghazi in time but were, for political reasons, held back. That false allegation was at the center of a discredited Fox News report from late last year that, it must be noted, had the Benghazi Republicans’ fingerprints all over it. “DoD interviewees have been asked repeatedly to speculate or engage in discussing on the record hypotheticals posed by Committee Members and staff,” Hedger’s letter notes, “regardless of the interviewee’s actual knowledge or expertise.” This all points to a committee that has, in many distinct ways, deliberately wasted a lot of time and resources.

By Simon Maloy

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