McKeon challenges retired general’s Benghazi testimony

 

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) on Thursday challenged the testimony of a retired general who said the U.S. military could have done more to stop the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

McKeon said that Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Lovell, who testified earlier Thursday before the House Oversight Committee, “did not serve in a capacity that gave him reliable insight into operational options available to commanders during the attack, nor did he offer specific courses of action not taken.”

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Lovell told lawmakers that military personnel knew “early on” that the Benghazi attack was a “hostile action” and not a spontaneous protest that went out of control. He said the military also waited for the State Department to ask for assistance and that more could have been done.

McKeon, though, said his probe had found no evidence that the State Department had delayed any military action.

“The Armed Services Committee has interviewed more than a dozen witnesses in the operational chain of command that night, yielding thousands of pages of transcripts, emails, and other documents,” he said. “We have no evidence that Department of State officials delayed the decision to deploy what few resources DOD had available to respond."

Last month, McKeon told reporters he thought the military responded as best it could to the attack, given the force structure at the time.

"In the end, while BG Lovell did not further the investigation or reveal anything new, he was another painful reminder of the agony our military felt that night, wanting to respond but unable to do so," McKeon added. 

A spokeswoman for the Oversight panel defended Lovell's contribution.

“General Lovell’s important testimony underscores why Americans, and specifically Benghazi victims’ families, have been unsatisfied with closed door and incomplete evaluations of the military response," Becca Watkins told The Hill via email. "The Oversight Committee intends to continue its investigation into interagency communication failures that contributed to the attack’s tragic outcome.”

Republican lawmakers have questioned if Obama administration officials downplayed the terrorist nature of the attack in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election for political reasons.

Then-United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice at first blamed the incident on protests over an anti-Islamic YouTube video, but the administration later acknowledged that the assault was a planned terrorist attack. The White House has said that Rice’s statements were based on the intelligence then available.

Republicans have seized on recently disclosed emails to claim that the administration has not been truthful about its response to the attack and call for further investigation.

In an email obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told Rice before her Sunday show interviews to “underscore” that the protests were sparked by the video.

White House press secretary Jay Carney, though, said the email was referring to general unrest in the Mideast and not the Benghazi attack.

— This story was updated at 6:43 p.m.

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