Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on Friday. Gowdy’s letter is a direct response to a letter the Pentagon’s congressional liaison sent him last month. Gowdy’s response pulls no punches, accusing the Pentagon of writing a “partisan, factually deficient” letter which was coordinated with the sole purpose of embarrassing the committee. As an example, Gowdy points out where the previous letter was wrong on the timeline of a request to interview drone pilots:
In February 2016, Members of the Committee made a specific request to speak with the pilots of the drones that flew above Benghazi on September 11-12 2012…
The Department’s letter severely mischaracterizes the facts surrounding this specific request. The letter claims the Committee first asked to speak with an individual who called a talk radio show and claimed to be a drone camera operator, and it was only after the Department was unable to locate him that the Committee expanded its request to interview all drone pilots and operators. In fact, the opposite occurred; the Member request from February 2016 predated any request to speak with the individual on the talk show. The Committee hopes your staff simply made a mistake rooted in negligence and not an intentional one rooted in politics.
The gist of the leaked Pentagon letter was that the Benghazi committee was wasting taxpayer money with all of its myriad requests for interviews. Here again, Gowdy points out that the Pentagon did not seem to be overworked when investigating another recent incident which involved even more witness interviews:
Your letter cited the “number and continued pace” of Committee requests since February 2016 and spoke of “unrealistic timelines” for completion of the work. As a measure of the Department’s compliance, the letter cited a total of seven completed transcribed interviews and the production of 1,000 pages of documents in nearly two years. The Committee has, in fact, interviewed sixteen (16) Department of Defense witnesses, twelve (12) of whom have never before been interviewed by Congress, and nine (9) of whom are now retired or no longer with the Department.
By contrast, the Department was able to complete the recently released review of the bombing of a civilian medical facility in Kunduz, Afghanistan within two months. That review “interviewed more than 65 witnesses, including personnel at the Trauma Center, members of U.S. and Afghan ground forces, members of the aircrew, and representatives at every echelon of command in Afghanistan.” It also evaluated “more than 3,000 pages of documentary evidence, much of it classified,” three times the number of pages your letter says were produced to the Committee. All of this work was completed without the burdens of which the Department now complains. 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.
In justifying the work of the committee, Gowdy points out that it has already uncovered mistakes the Pentagon made in material sent to congress:
After a Committee inquiry the Department of Defense changed its own unclassified timeline regarding the response to the Benghazi attacks. This shift in the Department’s position has important ramifications in understanding how the Department responded to the terrorist attacks in Benghazi on September 11-12, 2012.
Similarly, Department representatives informed the Committee the map it previously provided the Committee showing where forces in the region were postured on September 11, 2012 was incomplete.
Gowdy’s letter concludes by turning the accusation of wasting taxpayer money back on the Pentagon and warns that it will not stop the committee from continuing its work:
Your staff is welcome to waste taxpayer dollars writing partisan, factually deficient letters to our Committee, coordinate the language with House Democrats, and then leak it to the media. That is your prerogative. It will not prevent this Committee from interviewing all witnesses who can help us write the final, definitive accounting of what happened before, during, and after the attacks that killed four Americans in Benghazi and injured others. It will just prolong the investigation. I have been encouraged by too many soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines across the country to allow letters from political appointees to stop us.
The accusations of partisanship and coordination with Democrats appear heated but, in light of what we learned this week about how this White House operates when challenged, they also sound entirely plausible.