Congress

Benghazi panel opening statements by Trey Gowdy, Elijah Cummings

Watch Clinton and Gowdy’s opening statements at the Benghazi hearing

Hillary Clinton, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., give their opening statements at the Benghazi hearing on October 22, 2015. Rep. Gowdy defended the committee and Rep. Cummings defended Clinton while the former Secretary o
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Hillary Clinton, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., give their opening statements at the Benghazi hearing on October 22, 2015. Rep. Gowdy defended the committee and Rep. Cummings defended Clinton while the former Secretary o

Their statements Thursday as prepared for delivery and released by the House Select Committee on Benghazi.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman

Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods served our country with courage and with honor. They were killed under circumstances most of us could never imagine. Under cover of darkness, terrorists poured through the front gate of our facility and attacked our people and our property with machine guns, mortars and fire.

It is important we remember how these four men died. It is equally important we remember how and why they lived. They were more than four images on a television screen. They were husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, family and friends. They were Americans who believed in service and sacrifice. Many people speak wistfully of a better world, but do little about it. These four men went out and tried to make it better. And it cost them their lives.

We know what they gave us. What do we owe them? Justice for those who killed them. We owe their families our everlasting respect and gratitude. We owe them – and each other – the truth.

The truth about why we were in Libya.

The truth about what we were doing in Libya.

The truth about the escalating violence in Libya before we were attacked and these four men lost their lives.

The truth about requests for additional security.

The truth about requests for more personnel.

The truth about requests for more equipment.

The truth about where and why our military was positioned as it was on the anniversary of 9-11.

The truth about what was happening and being discussed in Washington while our people were under attack.

The truth about what led to the attacks.

The truth about what our government told the American people after the attacks.

Why were there so many requests for more security personnel and equipment, and why were those requests denied in Washington?

Why did the State Department compound in Benghazi not even come close to meeting proper security specifications?

What policies were we pursuing in Libya that required a physical presence in spite of the escalating violence?

Who in Washington was aware of the escalating violence in Libya?

What special precautions, if any, were taken on the anniversary of 9-11?

What happened in Washington after the first attack and what was the response to that attack?

What did the military do or not do?

What did our leaders in Washington do or not do and when?

Why was the American public given such divergent accounts of what caused these attacks?

And why is it so hard to get information from the very government these four men were representing and serving and sacrificing for?

Even after an Accountability Review Board and half a dozen congressional investigations, these and other questions still lingered. These questions lingered because those previous investigations were not thorough. These questions lingered because those previous investigations were narrow in scope and either incapable or unwilling to access the facts and evidence necessary to answer all relevant questions.

So the House of Representatives, including some Democrats, asked this committee to write the final, definitive accounting of what happened in Benghazi.

This committee is the first committee to review more than fifty thousand pages of documents because we insisted they be produced.

This committee is the first committee to demand access to more eyewitnesses, because serious investigations talk to as many eyewitnesses as possible.

This committee is the first committee to thoroughly and individually interview scores of other witnesses, many of them for the first time.

This committee is the first committee to review thousands of pages of documents from top State Department personnel.

This committee is the first committee to demand access to relevant documents from the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Defense, the State Department, and even the White House.

This committee is the first committee to demand access to the emails to and from Ambassador Chris Stevens. How could an investigation possibly be considered credible without reviewing the emails of the person most knowledgeable about Libya?

This committee is the first committee, the only committee, to uncover the fact that Secretary Clinton exclusively used personal email on her own personal server for official business and kept the public record – including emails about Benghazi and Libya – in her own custody and control for almost two years after she left office. And it was Secretary Clinton’s lawyers who determined what would be returned and what would not be returned.

You will hear a lot about the Accountability Review Board today. Secretary Clinton mentioned the ARB more than 70 times in her previous testimony before Congress. But when you hear about the ARB you should also know State Department leadership handpicked members of the ARB, the ARB never interviewed Secretary Clinton, the ARB never reviewed her emails and Secretary Clinton’s top adviser was allowed to review and suggest changes to the ARB report before the public ever saw it. There is no transcript of ARB interviews, so it is impossible to know whether all relevant questions were asked and answered. And because there is no transcript it is impossible to cite ARB interviews with any particularity at all. That is not independent. That is not accountability. That is not a serious investigation.

You will hear there were previous congressional investigations into Benghazi. That is true. It should make you wonder why those previous investigations failed to interview so many witnesses and failed to access so many documents. If those previous congressional investigations really were serious and thorough, how did they miss Ambassador Stevens’ emails? If those investigations were serious and thorough, how did they miss Secretary Clinton’s emails? If those previous congressional investigations were serious and thorough, why did they fail to interview dozens of key State Department witnesses including agents on the ground, who experienced the terrorist attacks firsthand?

Just last month, three years after Benghazi, top aides finally returned documents to the State Department. A month ago, this committee received 1,500 new pages of Secretary Clinton’s emails related to Libya and Benghazi. Three years after the attacks. A little over two weeks ago, this committee received roughly 1400 pages of Ambassador Stevens’ emails. Three years after the attacks.

It is impossible to conduct a serious, fact-centric investigation without access to the documents from the former secretary of state, the ambassador who knew more about Libya than anyone else, and testimony from witnesses who survived the attacks.

Madame Secretary, I understand some people – frankly in both parties – have suggested this investigation is about you. Let me assure you it is not. And let me assure you why it is not. This work is about something much more important than any single person. It is about four U.S. government workers, including our ambassador, murdered by terrorists on foreign soil. It is about what happened before, during, and after the attacks that killed these four men. It is about what this country owes those who risk their lives to serve it. It is about the fundamental obligation of our government to tell the truth – always – to the American people. Not a single member of this committee signed up for an investigation into you or your email system. We signed up because we wanted to honor the service and sacrifice of 4 people sent to a foreign land to represent us – who were killed – and do everything we can to prevent it from happening to others.

Our committee has interviewed half a hundred witnesses, not a single one of them has been named Clinton until today. You were the secretary of state for this country when our facility was attacked. So, of course this committee is going to talk to you. You are an important witness, but you are just one important witness, among half a hundred important witnesses.

I understand you wanted to come sooner than today so let me be clear why that did not happen. You had an unusual email arrangement with yourself, which meant the State Department could not produce your emails to us.

You made exclusive use of personal email and a personal server. When you left the State Department you kept those public records to yourself for almost two years. You and your attorneys decided what to return and what to delete. Those decisions were your decisions, not ours. It was only in March of this year we learned of this email arrangement. Since we learned of your email arrangement we have interviewed dozens of witnesses, only one of whom was about your email arrangement, and that was a very short interview because he invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

Making sure the public record is complete is what serious investigations do. So, it was important to gain access to Ambassador Stevens’ emails, the emails of other Sr. leaders and witnesses, and it was important to gain access to your emails. Your emails are no more or less important than anyone else’s. It just took longer to get them and garnered more attention in the process.

I want you to take note during this hearing how many times congressional Democrats call on this administration to make long awaited documents available. They won’t. Take note of how many witnesses congressional Democrats ask us to schedule for interview. They won’t. We would be much closer to finishing this investigation and writing a final report if our Democrat colleagues decided to help us pursue the facts. If the Democrats on this committee had their way, dozens of witnesses never would have been interviewed, tens of thousands of documents never would have been reviewed, your public record would still be private, and we would never have accessed the emails of our Ambassador. All of that may be smart politics, but it is not the way to run a serious investigation.

There are certain characteristics that make our country unique in the annals of history. We are the greatest experiment in self-governance the world has ever known. And part of that self-governance includes self-scrutiny – even of the highest officials. Our country is strong enough to handle the truth. And our fellow citizens expect us to pursue the truth, wherever the facts take us.

So this committee is going to do what we pledged to do, and what should have been done long ago, which is interview the witnesses, examine the relevant evidence, and access the documents. We are going to pursue the truth in a manner worthy of the memory of the four men who lost their lives and worthy of the respect of our fellow citizens.

We are going to write that final, definitive accounting of what happened in Benghazi. We would like to do it with your help, but we are going to do it nonetheless. Because understanding what happened in Benghazi goes to the heart of who we are as a country and the promises we make to those we send into harm’s way. They deserve the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The people we work for deserve the truth. The family and friends of those killed representing this country deserve the truth. There is no statute of limitations on that truth.

What do Hillary’s emails and Monica Lewinsky have in common? Both were scandals discovered because Congress investigated a Clinton. As Hillary prepares to appear before the Benghazi Committee on October 22, McClatchy political editor Steven “Buzz”

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., ranking member

Secretary Clinton, thank you very much for being here today to testify before Congress on this issue – now for the third time.

This week, our Chairman, Mr. Gowdy, was interviewed for a lengthy media profile. During this interview, he complained that he has “an impossible job.” He said it is impossible to conduct a serious, fact-centric investigation in such a “political environment.”

I have great respect for the chairman, but on this score, he is wrong. In fact, it has been done by his own Republican colleagues in the House on this very issue – Benghazi.

The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee conducted an extensive, bipartisan, two-year investigation and issued a detailed report. The Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Homeland Security Committee also conducted bipartisan investigations.

Those bipartisan efforts respected and honored the memories of the four brave Americans who were killed in Benghazi: Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

The problem is that Speaker Boehner did not like the answers he got from those investigations. So he set up this new Select Committee – with no rules, no deadline, and an unlimited budget – and he set it loose on Secretary Clinton because she is running for president.

Clearly, it is possible to conduct a serious, bipartisan investigation. What is impossible is for any reasonable person to continue denying that Republicans are squandering millions of taxpayer dollars on this abusive effort to derail Secretary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

In the chairman’s interview, he tried to defend against this criticism by attempting to cast himself as the victim, and he complained about attacks on the credibility of the Select Committee. His argument would be more compelling if Republicans weren’t leading the charge.

As we all know, Rep. Kevin McCarthy – Speaker Boehner’s second-in-command and the chairman’s close friend – admitted that they established the Select Committee to drive down Secretary Clinton’s poll numbers.

Republican Congressman Richard Hanna said the Select Committee was “designed” to go after Secretary Clinton.

And one of the chairman’s own investigators – a conservative Republican – charged that he was fired in part for not going along with these plans to “hyper focus on Hillary Clinton.”

These stark admissions reflect exactly what we have seen inside the Select Committee for the past year. Just look at the facts.

Since January, Republicans have canceled every single hearing on our schedule for the entire year – except for this one with Secretary Clinton.

They also canceled numerous interviews that they had planned with Defense Department and CIA officials.

Instead of doing what they said they were going to do, Republicans zeroed in on Secretary Clinton, her speechwriters, her IT staffers and her campaign officials. This is what Republicans did – not Democrats.

When Speaker Boehner established this Select Committee, he justified it by arguing that it would be “cross-jurisdictional.” I assumed he meant we would focus on more than just Secretary Clinton and the State Department.

But Madam Secretary, you are sitting here by yourself. The secretary of defense is not on your left, and the director of the CIA is not on your right. That’s because Republicans abandoned their own plans to question those top officials. So instead of being “cross-jurisdictional,” Republicans just crossed them off the list.

Last weekend, the chairman told his Republican colleagues to “shut up” and stop talking about the Select Committee.

What I want to know is this – why tell Republicans to shut up when they are telling the truth, but not when they are attacking Secretary Clinton with reckless accusations that are demonstrably false?

Carly Fiorina has said that Secretary Clinton “has blood on her hands,” Mike Huckabee accused her of “ignoring the warning calls from dying Americans in Benghazi,” Sen. Rand Paul said, “Benghazi was a 3:00 a.m. phone call that she never picked up,” and Sen. Lindsay Graham tweeted, “Where the hell were you on the night of the Benghazi attack?”

Everyone on this panel knows these accusations are baseless—from our own investigation and all those before it. Yet Republican Members of this Select Committee remain silent.

On Monday, the Democrats issued a report showing that none of the 54 witnesses the committee interviewed substantiated these wild Republican claims. Secretary Clinton did not order the military to stand down, and she neither approved nor denied requests for additional security.

I ask that our report be included in the official record for today’s hearing.

What is so telling is that we issued virtually the same report a year ago. When we first joined the Select Committee, I asked my staff to put together a complete report and database setting forth the primary questions that have been asked about the attacks and all of the answers that were provided in the eight previous investigations.

I ask that this report also be included in today’s hearing record.

The problem is that rather than accepting these facts, Republicans continue to spin new conspiracy theories that are just as outlandish and inaccurate. For example, the Chairman recently tried to argue that Sidney Blumenthal was Secretary Clinton’s primary adviser on Libya, and this past Sunday, Rep. Pompeo claimed on national television that Secretary Clinton relied on Sidney Blumenthal for most of her intelligence on Libya.

Earlier this week, the Washington Post Fact Checker awarded this claim “four pinocchios” – its worst rating.

Here is the bottom line. The Select Committee has spent 17 months and $4.7 million in taxpayer funds. We have held four hearings and conducted 54 interviews and depositions. Yes, we have received some new emails – from Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Stevens and others. And yes, we have conducted some new interviews.

But these documents and interviews do not show any nefarious activity. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The new information we have obtained confirms and corroborates the core facts we already knew from the eight previous investigations. They provide more detail, but they do not change the basic conclusions.

It is time for Republicans to end this taxpayer-funded fishing expedition. We need to come together and shift from politics to policy. We need to finally make good on our promises to the families, and we need to start focusing on what we here in Congress can do to improve the safety and security of our diplomatic corps in the future.

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