Top Intel Dem: ‘No evidence’ for Benghazi ‘stand down’ claim

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee on Friday said new allegations that U.S. commandos were ordered to “stand down” during the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, aren’t supported by findings from House and Senate investigators.

Five commandos who survived the Benghazi attack, which claimed the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, made the allegation in a new book, accusing the CIA station chief of delaying a rescue mission.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) said lawmakers never came across evidence indicating the station chief had told his team to “stand down” and abort a rescue mission.

“After interviewing these individuals, including those writing the book, and all of the others on the ground that night, both Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that there was not, in fact, an order to stand down and no evidence was found to support such a claim,” he said. 

Contractors and other security officers told the House committee about 25 minutes passed between learning about the attack and the time the commandos departed for their rescue mission, the congressman said.

“The team said they were prepped and ready to go within minutes, but the senior CIA officers responsible for the welfare of all Annex personnel were concerned they might be sending their security team into an ambush so they tried to obtain better intelligence and heavy weapons before dispatching the team,” Ruppersberger added.

He noted that a high-ranking CIA official told the committee the outcome could have been much worse if the rescue team had tried to act sooner.

Ruppersberger said the U.S. officials in charge of the CIA annex deliberated “thoughtfully, reasonably and quickly” about whether the rescue team should wait for further security.

He said the CIA station chief and his team should be “praised for their heroic efforts” during the September 2012 attack.

Ruppersberger’s comments come after The New York Times obtained a copy of the new book 13 Hours, written by five U.S. commandos who were hired by the CIA as private contractors in Libya.  

In the book, which will be released next week, the commandos — former Special Operations forces hired by the CIA as private contractors — write that the station chief ordered them to wait 20 minutes before heading to the U.S. diplomatic mission. 

The commandos said they eventually disregarded the chief’s order to stand down after a plea for help from the besieged Americans, the Times said.

The allegations come as a House select committee probes the Benghazi attacks and with many GOP lawmakers questioning if enough was done to save American lives.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, said in a statement Friday that the congressional panel has heard of the commandos' concerns. He said they highlighted the need for further investigations.

"There are still facts to learn about Benghazi and information that needs to be explained in greater detail to the American people. And this Committee will do just that," he said. 

Fox News says it will air a documentary Friday evening about the book.

A journalism professor from Boston University wrote the book. Three of the commandos are named — Mark Geist, John Tiegen and Kris Paronto — and two others used pseudonyms.

This story was updated at 1:35 p.m.