The Pentagon is sick of a House panel's demands regarding the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, and sent a letter to the committee Thursday night calling on them to do a better job with their urgent requests for interviews.
"The department has spent millions of dollars on Benghazi-specific congressional compliance, including reviews by four other committees, which have diligently reviewed the military's response in particular," Stephen Hedger, the department's assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, wrote in a Thursday letter addressed to the Select Committee on Benghazi. The committee is chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
"The department is working diligently to accommodate your staff's multiple and changing requests," Hedger said. "[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."
The letter was released by committee Democrats, who have charged that the investigation into the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on American facilities in Libya is aimed at impugning former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Republicans have suggested they hope to finalize their report on the issue by mid-summer, revealing what the State Department knew about the issue and whether officials responded appropriately.
Hedger wrote that the Pentagon's frustration came from requests for interviews that never seem to end.
"In February 2016, nearly 22 months after the establishment of the Committee, DoD lawyers met with Committee staff to receive what was represented to be a final list of requests for the Department," Hedger wrote, adding that the list expanded in February and March, leading to a March 31 meeting to establish the new final list. Yet another came April 22. "While we understand that investigations evolve over time, it is unfortunate that the Committee has identified the need for these interviews only now.
"The number and continued pace of these requests since February 2016 are in tension with your staff's statements that the committee expects to finish its investigation in the near term," Hedger wrote. "Perhaps because of this conflict, the committee's requests are accompanied by unrealistic timelines for the department to identify the correct service members (who are often only identified by positions), locate them if deployed or retired, and schedule interviews, which in some cases require them to return from overseas.
Hedger also cited instances of the committee requesting "individuals who seem unnecessary even for a comprehensive investigation, or has insisted we prioritize certain requests only to later abandon the request." One of the requests involved finding "John from Iowa," who into Sean Hannity's radio show in 2013, claimed he was a drone camera operator who saw the whole thing and said they weren't allowed to be armed.
"The Department has expended significant resources to locate anyone who might match the description of this person, to no avail," Hedger wrote. "The Committee staff then expanded this initial request to include all RPA [remotely piloted aircraft] and RPA sensor operators who operated in the region that night. This expansion resulted in a time-intensive search that required DoD to locate another half-dozen current and former service members."
The other examples of interview requests included four pilots who could have been, but were not, deployed to Benghazi at the time, and someone who claimed on Facebook "that he had been a mechanic at an air base in Europe the night of the attack and alleged that planes at his base could have been deployed to Benghazi in time to make a difference."
The letter concluded with a complaint that Pentagon officials were being asked to talk about issues they deemed speculation, and a request that the department be left out of it.
"DoD interviewees have been asked repeatedly to speculate or engage in discussing on the record hypotheticals posed by Committee Members and staff, regardless of the interviewee's actual knowledge or expertise to provide appropriate analysis or insight ... I would respectfully request that you ensure pending interviews remain focused on obtaining facts rather than encouraging speculation," Hedger wrote.
"This letter is further proof the Benghazi Committee is conducting a thorough, fact-centered investigation," said a spokesman for the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
"It's unfortunate it took the threat of subpoenas for the Pentagon to make witnesses available earlier this year. This delayed the committee from learning a tremendous amount of new information from several witnesses, and when they refer the committee to others in the department, the responsible thing to do is to interview them. What is DOD so afraid of? Why are they supposedly unable to find their own employees?"
A Pentagon spokesman responded: "As the letter makes clear, the department has gone to extensive lengths to make witnesses available, and will continue to do so. We'll accommodate all congressional requests. The letter simply points out how broad some of the requests have been and asks for a meeting to find a way forward that maximizes efficiency and is fair to men and women in uniform."