Pentagon Official Criticizes Benghazi Panel Information Requests

  • Committee has made a `crescendo of requests,' official says
  • Some defense personnel have been threatened with subpoenas

Hillary Clinton speaks during a House Select Committee on Benghazi hearing in Washington on Oct. 22, 2015.

Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

A Pentagon official complained that the Republican-led House committee investigating Hillary Clinton’s response to the 2012 Benghazi attacks has launched a "crescendo" of new demands for interviews and other information that the Defense Department considers unnecessary.

Committee staff have threatened to subpoena some service members because the department is unable to move quickly enough to respond to "multiple and changing requests," said Steven Hedger, assistant defense secretary for legislative affairs, in a letter to committee Chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina.

"Subpoenaing our service members, when the department is working diligently to accommodate your requests and when no service member has refused to appear voluntarily, is unfair to our uniformed men and women and an unproductive way forward," Hedger wrote in the letter released Friday.

Hedger said some Defense Department personnel were repeatedly asked during interviews to speculate or discuss hypothetical situations, regardless of their knowledge or expertise.

"This type of questioning poses the risk that your final report may be based on speculation rather than a fact-based analysis of what a military officer did do or could have done given his or her knowledge at the time of the attacks," Hedger continued in the letter.

A House official has said Gowdy is aiming for a July completion of the committee’s report into the administration’s actions leading up to and during the attacks on U.S. outpost in in Libya that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Democratic Nomination

Clinton, who is moving to secure the Democratic presidential nomination at the party’s convention in July, was secretary of state at the time of the attacks. Republicans have been trying to prove that she failed to bolster security before the assault and should share blame for what they say is the Obama administration’s initial, erroneous account of what happened. The committee also is investigating Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while secretary of state.

Republicans also have raised questions about whether the Obama administration could have done more to rescue Americans during the Benghazi attacks. Leon Panetta, who was defense secretary at the time, wrote Congress in 2012 that while Obama ordered “all available” Pentagon assets to respond, no armed planes were near Benghazi at the time.

“The U.S. armed forces did everything they were in a position to do to respond,” Panetta wrote.

A spokesman for Gowdy and other Republicans on the committee, Matt Wolking, said in a statement Friday that Hedger’s letter "is further proof the Benghazi Committee is conducting a thorough, fact-centered investigation."

"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,” Wolking said. "What is DoD so afraid of? Why are they supposedly unable to find their own employees?”

Democrats have said the committee is geared more to political goals than fact-finding. The investigation of Clinton’s use of private e-mail has weighed on her presidential bid.

‘Seem Unnecessary’

Hedger told Gowdy the Pentagon is committed to aiding in the investigation of the Benghazi attack, though he said some requests "seem unnecessary even for a comprehensive investigation." The committee has requested more than a dozen new interviews in the last three months, including four people identified last week, the Defense official said.

The top Democrat on the Benghazi committee, Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, responded that, "Republicans continue to squander millions of taxpayer dollars chasing right-wing conspiracy theories and forcing Pentagon officials to waste their time on this partisan fishing expedition.”

Representative Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement, “After two years of a politically driven innuendo and $6.7 million in wasted taxpayer money, the last thing we should be doing is subpoenaing our service members.”

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