Benghazi panel goes to war with Pentagon

Benghazi panel goes to war with Pentagon
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Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi accused the Pentagon on Friday of wading into politics by making false claims about its work and undermining the integrity of the military.

In a blistering letter on Friday, Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyOur sad reality: Donald Trump is no Eisenhower GOP takes aim at Comey, Brennan House Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report MORE (R-S.C.) accused the Defense Department of “wast[ing] taxpayer dollars” by coordinating with Democrats to write “partisan, factually deficient” complaints to his committee.

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“This approach to independent congressional oversight and the inaccurate characterization of the committee’s work ... are unbefitting of the Department of Defense,” Gowdy told Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

“I, too, would have liked this investigation completed months ago,” he added. “Yet, constant obstacles and barriers created by the executive branch — including the Department of Defense — have made that impossible.”

The scathing missive comes in response to a highly unusual note from the Pentagon’s top congressional liaison last week that accused the special committee of wasting the department’s time with needless requests.

“The department is working diligently to accommodate your staff’s multiple and changing requests,” assistant secretary of Defense for legislative affairs Stephen Hedger wrote at the time in the letter, which committee Democrats released. “[H]owever, we are concerned by the continuous threats from your staff to subpoena witnesses because we are not able to move quickly enough to accommodate these new requests.”

Gowdy’s response on Friday poked holes in the timeline suggested by the Pentagon letter and claimed that Hedger “intentionally mischaracterizes” the committee’s work.

“It is also riddled with factual inaccuracies, which not only does a disservice to the public but also does a disservice to the women and men who work for the Department of Defense,” Gowdy claimed.

The new volleys are a sign of the escalating partisan tensions surrounding the Benghazi panel, which appear to have expanded from a deep rift between Republicans and Democrats on the committee to a growing animosity between it and the Obama administration. 

In his letter, Gowdy referred to the possibility of “potential partisan coordination” between the Defense Department and committee Democrats. Hedger previously worked for congressional Democrats before coming to the Pentagon. The Daily Caller has outlined other apparent connections between the Defense Department and committee Democrats.

A spokesperson for committee Democrats accused Gowdy of twisting events to suit Republicans’ narrative.

“It’s difficult to count how many times one Republican press release can mischaracterize the facts,” the spokesperson said in a statement on Friday afternoon. “It seems crystal clear from the Department of Defense’s letter that they are tired of getting jerked around by Select Committee Republicans while trying to fulfill their primary mission of protecting our nation.”

“Select Committee Republicans should stop blaming everyone else for their own failings and put an end to this wasteful charade of an investigation.”

Hedger’s letter last week accused Gowdy and his fellow Republicans of wasting the Pentagon’s time with unnecessary requests for interviews based on allegations from talk radio or in Facebook comments.

But the committee has an obligation to follow whatever trail it may discover, Gowdy maintained on Friday.

“I would rather risk interviewing a witness in good faith who ultimately produces little probative information than risk not interviewing one who does,” he wrote. “The failure to pursue leads does the department, the public and Congress no favor.”

Interviews with lower-level witnesses, he added, have helped to shine a light on inaccuracies in the Defense Department’s earlier statements, such as an incomplete map of military forces in the region on the date of the 2012 terror attacks on an U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya.

“Talking to the generals and the admirals is important,” Gowdy wrote. “So too is talking to the service members actually on the ground making preparations to carry out orders.”

On Sunday, the committee will have existed for two years since being created on a largely party-line vote by House lawmakers. Democrats have long opposed the panel’s work, claiming that it was a thinly veiled attack on likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate Democrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate House Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally MORE, and accusing Republicans of dragging its work out to maximize damage to her campaign.

Republicans have repeatedly blamed the Obama administration for the delay, noting several instances in which documents were not handed over for months after the request.

In comparison, Gowdy wrote on Friday, the Pentagon took just a few months to complete a review of the bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan late last year.

“The department apparently has a different definition of burden when it is investigating itself as opposed to cooperating with the Congress of the United States,” he claimed.

This story was updated at 6:06 p.m.