A former three-star general who served as the Republicans’ chief counsel on the Benghazi Select Committee repeatedly acknowledged as he interviewed witnesses during the committee’s investigation that nothing “could have been done differently to affect the outcome in Benghazi.”
The quotes, which came from multiple interviews conducted by the committee, were revealed publicly for the first time in a letter to Benghazi Select Committee chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., from ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith, D-Wash.
Although he is not identified by name in the letter, it has been publicly reported that Gowdy had hired Lt. Gen. Dana K. Chipman “to lead the panel’s legal team.” Chipman left the committee earlier this year.
While interviewing former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in January, the then-chief counsel acknowledged, “I think you ordered exactly the right forces to move out and to head toward a position where they could reinforce what was occurring in Benghazi or in Tripoli or elsewhere in the region. And, sir, I don’t disagree with the actions you took, the recommendations you made, and the decisions you directed.” (Emphasis added)
Later in the interview he told Panetta, “And again, sir, I don’t mean to suggest that anything could have been done differently to affect the outcome in Benghazi, and I think you would agree with that.”
These statements undermine one of the GOP’s most heavily recycled — and completely unfounded — talking points about the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans. Republicans have repeatedly and baselessly claimed that President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered the military to “stand down” and not respond to the attacks.
Gowdy praised Chipman when he brought him onto the committee’s legal team, remarking, “If you are serious about conducting a fair, thorough, fact-centric investigation devoid of gratuitous partisanship, it stands to reason you would select someone with those same characteristics to lead the investigation.”
In the committee’s “Interim Progress Update,” released in May 2015, Gowdy boasted of the “highly-qualified staff” he had gathered to aid the investigation, specifically mentioning Chipman.
In an interview with Defense Department Chief of Staff Jeremy Bash, the form chief council made similar comments to those he had made to Panetta. “I would posit that from my perspective, having looked at all the materials over the last 18 months, we could not have affected the response to what occurred by 5:15 in the morning on the 12th of September in Benghazi, Libya,” he said. “So let me start with that positing or that stipulation.”
During the same interview, he also noted, “I don’t see any way to influence what occurred there. But what I am worried about is we’re caught by surprise on 9/11, we’ve got nothing postured to respond in a timely manner — and you can debate what’s timely, what’s untimely, but nothing could have affected what occurred in Benghazi.”
These statements are all in line with the conclusions of previous investigations, including those conducted by the Republican-led House Armed Services Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee. They also match statements by military leaders including Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey.
Yet Gowdy continues to claim that his committee is uncovering ground-breaking new information, saying in a statement last week that “the committee has identified new facts that significantly impact our understanding of what happened before, during, and after Benghazi.”
Gowdy, in an apparently desperate attempt to find damning information about the administration’s response to the attack, has sought to call as witnesses a man who anonymously called in to a right-wing radio show claiming to have previously undisclosed knowledge of the events and a purported whistleblower who recently spoke with Fox News.
Despite Gowdy’s desperate attempts to salvage the image of his committee, Chipman’s statements raise serious questions about what the Benghazi Select Committee has accomplished in the course of its two-year, $6.9 million investigation.