Pentagon accused of dragging feet on Benghazi probe

Pentagon accused of dragging feet on Benghazi probe
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The Republican chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Thursday accused the Pentagon of dragging its feet in the latest example of friction between the panel and the Obama administration.

While assembling purportedly final interviews as part of their investigation of the Sept. 11, 2012, terror attack in the Libyan city, Republicans on the committee in February asked the Department of Defense (DOD) to find the names of all drone pilots and operators in the area at the time.


The Pentagon has said the request is “unnecessary” and has already resulted in “a time-intensive search.”

Months later, the Defense Department still has not provided the names of drone pilots and operators working on the second day of the attack, Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Conway spars with Wallace on whether White House will cooperate with impeachment inquiry after formal vote Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' MORE (R-S.C.) said in a statement Thursday.

“The committee needs all of the names so the relevant witnesses can be interviewed and the investigation completed,” Gowdy said.

“Surely DOD can complete the simple task of finding the people within the chain of command in less than three months."

Gowdy has been forced on his heels in recent days, following an unusually blunt allegation from the Pentagon that the Benghazi committee was wasting its time with vague, evolving and needless requests.

In a letter in late April, the Pentagon’s top congressional liaison, Stephen Hedger, included the committee’s demand for drone pilots as part of a list of grievances about “multiple and changing requests” in recent months, roughly two years after the panel was created.

The committee requested details about the pilots in February. Roughly a month later, it followed up with a request for information about a 2013 caller to Sean Hannity’s radio show, who identified himself as “John in Iowa” and suggested “individuals were remiss in their duties” during the violence, which killed four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Hedger’s complaints to the committee misstated that timeline, according to communications reviewed by The Hill. Gowdy subsequently chided the Defense Department over the error and wondered whether it was based in “negligence” or “rooted in politics.”

In any case, the committee has already had access to drone video from the night of the 2012 terror attack, Hedger noted.

“[I]t remains unclear what additional information could be gained from these interviews, especially the pilots,” he told the committee last month.

Gowdy and other Republicans have claimed that their job is to follow any and all leads that may develop.

“The families of those killed and injured in Benghazi and the American people deserve to hear from any witness who can potentially provide relevant, probative evidence," Gowdy said.

Members of the Benghazi committee have broken into new infighting in recent days, as the panel appears to be closing in on a summer release of its report about the Benghazi attack. Democrats have long dismissed the committee’s work as a taxpayer-funded partisan hit job against Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Top diplomat said request for specific probes in Ukraine was 'contrary' to US policy Feehery: What Republicans must do to adapt to political realignment MORE.

Critics of the committee were given new ammunition in May, when Democrats released comments from the former chief GOP counsel suggesting that the committee has been on a two-year goose chase.

“Nothing could have affected what occurred in Benghazi,” retired Army Lt. Gen. Dana Chipman said during a closed-door interview earlier this year.

Democrats did not provide full context for Chipman’s quote, and the full transcript remains secret. He has since stated that he supports the committee’s work.

“The committee has an obligation to the American people to determine what can and cannot be substantiated, so if an individual makes public allegations about Benghazi, the committee should interview that person,” he said in a statement after the Democratic release.

— This report was last updated at 12:59 p.m.