The dam seems to be breaking on the nearly eight-month-long cover-up concerning the deadly jihadist attack on Americans and their facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
Here are some reasons to believe the moment of truth — or, more accurately, the moment for truth — is finally arriving: The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is scheduled to hold a potentially explosive hearing Wednesday. The Weekly Standard has obtained an official timeline showing White House and State Department skullduggery with respect to the administration’s very first briefing to Congress that suggests a deliberate effort to mislead the public and its elected representatives.
In addition, there are now indications that despite reported intimidation by the Obama administration — long-silenced witnesses are determined to reveal what they know. At the instigation of Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, and with encouragement from more than 700 special operations veterans and family members of those lost in Benghazi, some 135 legislators in the House of Representatives and three U.S. senators are calling for a special investigatory committee. (To join the appeal for such a select committee with full subpoena powers, visit EndtheCoverup.com.)
To be sure, Team Obama seems as determined as ever to defy efforts to ferret out the truth about Benghazi. In this, they have been aided by the failure of Congress to date to mount a single, concerted investigation of what led up to, happened during and took place after the attack.
Instead, no fewer than five committees in the House alone have conducted hearings into one aspect or another of the scandal. Their lackluster performance over the past seven months is in evidence in a “progress report” jointly issued two weeks ago by their chairmen. It principally shows that a host of questions remain unanswered. All other things being equal, chances are they will continue to be.
It is time to consolidate and redouble the investigation. Mr. Wolf proposes in House Resolution 36 to do so by forming a temporary committee whose members would include the chairmen and ranking members of the five oversight committees in order to ensure their expertise is brought to bear and their jurisdictions respected.
These are among the most pregnant questions such a select committee needs to address without further delay:
Where was President Obama and what was he doing? We know that he was apprised in person of the attack on the State Department’s “special mission facility” in Benghazi at its outset by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey. He evidently did not order a rescue operation on that occasion, or thereafter.
In fact, Mr. Panetta and Gen. Dempsey testified that they had no further contact with the commander in chief after the meeting. As a practical matter, since only he can order the U.S. military to engage in cross-border operations, none was mounted — either to aid those in the compound or the nearby CIA “annex” that came under attack some seven hours after the former was sacked, resulting in the killings of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and one other diplomat. We need to know why not, and what the president was doing instead of his first responsibility: protecting Americans.
Where was Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and why did she fail to intervene on behalf of her subordinates in harm’s way? Mr. Panetta and Gen. Dempsey also testified that they had no contact with Mrs. Clinton throughout that long and fateful night after the initial briefing to the president. The Joint Chiefs chairman expressed incredulity that she was unaware of the perilous security situation in which her folks had been placed — for reasons that are still not clear — on a day al Qaeda has made particularly perilous for all Americans and in a place Stevens and his staff repeatedly warned was extremely dangerous.
In short, when Mrs. Clinton’s “3 o’clock” call came in, where was she and why did she fail to answer it? She may continue to insist, “What difference, at this point, does it make?” The difference the truth makes now is that it bears directly on her judgment, character and performance in high office. Americans are entitled to the truth on all those scores before they are asked to elect her as our next commander in chief.
Will Americans in harm’s way be treated with similar indifference in the future? The 700 special operators noted in their letter to members of Congress that no man left behind is a principle held dear by our military men and women. Throughout their careers, these warriors and their comrades trained and prepared for, and often executed, rescue missions, and they are determined to find out why none was undertaken this time. They are right to insist that those in uniform around the world and State Department personnel need to know whether they will be abandoned by our government in the event they are taken hostage or otherwise imperiled. If so, it will be open season on every one of them.
Many other questions exist, and they doubtless will be addressed if and when the House leadership adopts an institutional approach with a chance of overcoming executive branch defiance and perfidy. The fact that the moment for truth has been delayed this long is a scandal in its own right. It must not be deferred further.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. was an assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan. He is president of the Center for Security Policy (SecureFreedom.org), a columnist for The Washington Times and host of the syndicated program Secure Freedom Radio.