Written by Center for Security Policy
Washington, D.C. (June 19, 2013) – Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) today continued to push for the establishment of a Select Committee to investigate the Benghazi attacks.
In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, Wolf said that too much of the investigation on Benghazi was being done behind closed doors in classified briefings at a time when congressional approval is at an all-time low and Americans are disappointed with the lack of transparency in their government.
Wolf reiterated that a Select Committee, which currently has 158 Republican cosponsors – the majority of the majority in the House, is the only way to efficiently and openly investigate the attacks.
“Too much has been done in a piecemeal fashion, behind closed doors, thereby robbing the American people of clear answers to important questions surrounding the murder of a sitting U.S. ambassador and three civilian employees, and the grievous injury of untold others,” he wrote.
Wolf noted that even the upcoming hearing before the House Armed Services Committee next week in which Gen. Carter Ham is scheduled to testify will be closed to the public and the press.
“There is no reason Gen. Ham’s testimony shouldn’t be public,” Wolf said.
Wolf pointed out that a number of other scandals involving the Obama Administration will require aggressive oversight by Congress, specifically citing the difficulty in getting answers on the IRS scandal, which only deals with one agency.
“The Benghazi case cuts across multiple national security agencies and the White House involving sensitive information, thereby putting it in a league of its own among the various scandal investigations,” Wolf said.
“This is all the more reason to take the best of the best under a Select Committee to build, at no additional cost, on the work that has already been done through regular order,” he wrote. “There would be no need to start over, as some have tried to say. Nor would there be additional costs – the resolution specifically states that we should use existing resources.”
Wolf reminded Boehner that there are just five legislative weeks before the one-year anniversary of the attacks in September.
“We must not wait until the second year of this investigation to commit the focused resources of a Select Committee in pursuit of government accountability and, ultimately, truth,” he wrote. “Sources are disappearing and leads are drying up. The Select Committee legislation needs to be swiftly brought to the floor for a vote, so the House can hold public hearings over the summer … and attempt to provide a final public report by the first anniversary of this attack.”
Wolf concluded his letter by quoting from a recent Wall Street Journal editorial: “Let Benghazi’s chips fall. The House should appoint a Select Committee.”
Wolf’s measure to create a Select Committee has been endorsed by the parents of some of the victims, more than 700 retired Special Operations officials, by the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Associations, which represents the State Department security officers who were on the ground in Benghazi, and by the Wall Street Journal, as well as other publications. For a full list of endorsements, click here.
For more on Wolf’s work on Benghazi, click here.
The full text of the letter is below.
The Honorable John A. Boehner
Speaker of the House
U.S. House of Representatives
H-232 The Capitol
Dear Mr. Speaker:
The American people are losing confidence in their government. The tragedy in Benghazi, along with a stream of recent controversies, including the IRS and the Justice Department’s targeting of reporters at Fox News and the Associated Press, as well as the ambiguity about recently disclosed programs at the National Security Agency, are eroding public trust in the institutions of government.
This diminishing of public confidence isn’t limited to the Executive Branch. Congress’ approval rating is at an all-time low. A June 14 National Journal article said, “Nearly 8 in 10 Americans told Gallup pollsters this month that they disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job, the 45th consecutive month that more than two-thirds of Americans graded Congress poorly. The problem isn’t as much what Congress is doing as what it is not getting done.” I believe most Americans would agree that one of the items “not getting done” is a thorough, comprehensive and ultimately definitive investigation into the response to the Benghazi attacks.
That is why I have been pushing so hard for a bipartisan Select Committee to investigate the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi. The response among most of our colleagues and the public has been overwhelming. Since January, when I proposed including the Select Committee in the House Rules package for the 113th Congress, more than two-thirds of House Republicans – a majority of the majority – have cosponsored my bill, H. Res. 36, to create the Select Committee. Since that time, there has been a growing chorus of support. The bill has been endorsed by the parents of some of the victims, by more than 700 retired Special Operations officials, by the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Associations, which represents the State Department security officers who were on the ground in Benghazi, and by The Wall Street Journal editorial page in addition to dozens of other commentators, former diplomats and military officials. I believe this broad support speaks to the public’s hunger for clear answers on Benghazi – answers which to date have been elusive. That is why more than nine months after the devastating attack, my resolution continues to add new cosponsors; it now has the support of 158 Republicans.
I recognize that “regular order” has made some progress over the last six months; most notably Chairman Issa’s constructive hearing with several State Department whistleblowers. I also understand that Chairman McKeon has planned a hearing with Gen. Carter Ham for next week, but like so many of these hearings, this, too, will be held behind closed doors. There is no reason Gen. Ham’s testimony shouldn’t be public. This latest classified hearing is symptomatic of a broader problem with respect to the current congressional approach to investigating Benghazi: Too much has been done in a piecemeal fashion, behind closed doors, thereby robbing the American people of clear answers to important questions surrounding the murder of a sitting U.S. ambassador and three civilian employees, and the grievous injury of untold others.
Deuteronomy 16:20 tells us, “Justice, justice shalt thou pursue.” As we quietly marked the nine-month anniversary of the attacks last week, I know many people wondered if there will ever be any clear resolution to this investigation, let alone justice.
Writing about Benghazi in The Wall Street Journal last month, columnist Peggy Noonan pondered, “Was all this incompetence? Or was it politics disguised as the fog of war? Who called these shots and made these decisions? Who decided to do nothing?”
More than nine months later, the Congress still cannot answer these questions. No one has been held responsible for the failure to respond that night. A few mid-level career officials have been penalized, but ultimately those senior officials who were in the position to actually say the buck stops here – cabinet secretaries and political appointees at the White House, State Department, Defense Department and CIA – have emerged unscathed, and in some cases, seemingly the better for it.
Consider that former Secretary Clinton now earns hundreds of thousands of dollars for every speech she gives, former Secretary Panetta just signed a $3 million book deal and former CIA Director Petraeus recently joined an investment firm in New York.
Similarly, several other administration officials associated with the Benghazi response to the attack have been promoted. Ambassador Rice has been promoted to national security advisor, then-deputy national security advisor Dennis McDonough has been promoted to White House chief of staff, and then-White House chief of staff Jack Lew has been promoted to Treasury Secretary.
If all responsible for the government’s response to Benghazi have been rewarded with lucrative contracts or promotions within the administration, what signal does this send to the American people about accountability?
Mr. Speaker, we’re fast approaching the Independence Day recess. We will only have four legislative weeks in July before the August recess. When we return in September we will be just days away from the one-year anniversary of the Benghazi attacks.
We must not wait until the second year of this investigation to commit the focused resources of a Select Committee in pursuit of government accountability and, ultimately, truth. Sources are disappearing and leads are drying up. The Select Committee legislation needs to be swiftly brought to the floor for a vote, so the House can hold public hearings over the summer – focused exclusively on the core issues about why no assistance was sent to the Americans under fire in Benghazi – and attempt to provide a final public report by the first anniversary of this attack.
You have a number of committee chairman who would be excellent at leading the Select Committee. Chairman Issa has shown in his hearing with the State Department whistleblowers that he would be a good chairman. Similarly, Chairman Royce, Chairman Rogers, Chairman McKeon, Chairman Goodlatte and Chairman McCaul are all strong leaders and would ably chair a Select Committee. Further, we have a lot of talent in our conference to draw from. There are a number of newer members who have proven themselves to be capable and insightful investigators. You could consider appointing some of them to the Select Committee, too.
As I mentioned earlier, a number of new controversies involving the Obama Administration have surfaced in recent months that demand the committees’ full attention. This is all the more reason to take the best of the best under a Select Committee to build, at no additional cost, on the work that has already been done through regular order. There would be no need to start over, as some have tried to say. Nor would there be additional costs – the resolution specifically states that we should use existing resources.
We owe it to the families of the Benghazi victims and to the not yet named survivors, whose lives will be indelibly marked by the wounds they endured protecting the annex, to honor their sacrifice and their service. Harkening back to Deuteronomy, we must pursue justice on their behalf, recognizing their heroism and an accounting for the failures in leadership that left them exposed and vulnerable. We also owe it to the men and women who serve our country now and in the years ahead to restore confidence that if they come under fire, we will make every effort to come to their defense. For these reasons alone, we should not give up on this issue.
I am afraid that if we don’t move on a Select Committee, we’ll never find out the truth. Just as The Wall Street Journal editorial page in May said, “A Select Committee is the only means available now for the U.S. political system to extricate itself from the labyrinth called Benghazi.”
The need for a Select Committee is underscored by the difficulty we’re having getting answers on a number of current investigations. Consider that in the case of the IRS scandal, both the Ways and Means Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee have opened up independent investigations that will likely take significant resources for months to come. It is important that they investigate, and they are doing an excellent job. But despite these efforts, much remains unknown about the IRS scandal – which involves only a single agency and does not have to deal with sensitive, classified information – including whether the political targeting of groups was confined to the Cincinnati office or was actually directed by Washington. We still don’t have a clear answer.
In comparison, the Benghazi case cuts across multiple national security agencies and the White House involving sensitive information, thereby putting it in a league of its own among the various scandal investigations. Also of great interest is the increasing concern that the FBI is being used by various agencies as an excuse to avoid answering questions on Benghazi, especially as this investigation drags on longer. The American people should be troubled by the anemic pace of the FBI’s investigation of those responsible for the attacks. Nearly a year later, the U.S. does not have a single suspect in custody. The Tunisians released one suspect earlier this year, after making the FBI wait for months to interview him. Another person of significant interest has been held since last fall by the Egyptian government, a recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. foreign assistance, but they will not allow the FBI to interview him.
Even more concerning, last month the Associated Press reported that the FBI allegedly has identified five men believed to be responsible for the Benghazi attacks, but won’t detain them because it does not have enough evidence to try them in a U.S. civilian court. For the U.S. to know the identities and possible locations of those who killed four Americans and fail to take action immediately because the administration insists on an Article III trial is shameful. For these reasons, any worthwhile Benghazi investigation must also consider how the Justice Department has managed its investigation into the terrorists over the last year.
Despite these serious issues, much of the House’s investigation on Benghazi to date has centered on secondary discussions like the “talking points” and the Accountability Review Board process, to the detriment of more fundamental issues like the administration’s apparent abandonment of Americans who were facing a deadly siege.
On the issues that matter most, there is nothing that happened that deadly night in Benghazi that can’t be addressed in a public hearing and accompanying report of findings. There are ways to protect classified information while still allowing the public to learn what actually happened that night. There is no legitimate reason that the public shouldn’t know what calls for help were made from Benghazi, who received those calls and, most importantly, why no support was sent to the Americans under siege. There is no reason that officials in the chain of command at various agencies shouldn’t be asked to answer publicly why no effort was made to rescue those in Benghazi.
It has been repeated often that there were no military assets in the region that could have responded in time to stop the initial attack on the consulate. But when the attacks started, no one could have known whether it would last eight minutes, eight hours, or eight days, or longer. It appears that not even a single plane was scrambled. We can’t help but draw the deeply troubling conclusion that within minutes of the attack, the decision was made that the battle was lost and the Americans left there would be collateral damage in the greater War on Terror.
If our government never sent a plane to help defend the annex, it begs the question: Did they even send an American plane to get the bodies and survivors out of Benghazi after the attacks? There’s no reason the public should not learn the answer to this question, too.
As Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin (ret.) and other former Special Operations officials have noted, a bedrock American ethos – that our nation never leaves anyone behind on the battlefield – was shattered that night in Benghazi. No one came to rescue them despite pleas for help. More than nine months later, too many questions remain unanswered: Who took the call that night? What were they told and how did they respond? Why was the determination made not to intervene in a horrific assault on a U.S. diplomat and his brave support staff?
In the dangerous world in which we live there are undoubtedly hard fought battles where American blood is spilt, and lives lost – our nation is painfully aware of this reality through our experience in distant lands like Iraq and Afghanistan. But Benghazi was an unanticipated battlefield where terrorist elements seized on the occasion of the anniversary of 9/11 to strike at an American outpost abroad. They did so with deadly consequence, and their attack was met with silence from a superpower.
This is a black mark on our national history. It emboldens others with similarly gruesome aims. It leaves vulnerable Americans serving in dangerous posts. And ultimately, the lack of transparency from the various government agencies and entities involved undermines the faith of the American people in their government.
This is a less obvious “casualty” of that dark day, but it has lasting implications which we as public servants know well. For in a functioning democracy there is a sacred trust that must exist between the government and the governed and that trust is precipitously eroding.
As the Wall Street Journal noted in its May editorial, “Let Benghazi’s chips fall. The House should appoint a Select Committee.”
Frank R. Wolf
Member of Congress
For over twenty-three years, the Center for Security Policy has pioneered the organization, management and direction of public policy coalitions to promote U.S. national security. Even more importantly, the Center's mission has been to secure the adoption of the products of such efforts by skillfully enlisting support from executive branch officials, key legislators, other public policy organizations, opinion-shapers in the media and the public at large.