The Benghazi Hearing Begins

You can read a running transcript of the hearing before Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi Select Committee here. We will comment on the proceedings on and off through the day.

The first noteworthy event was Gowdy’s opening statement. He did a great job, I thought, of spiking Hillary’s main themes by explaining why there not been, until now, a serious investigation of what happened in Benghazi, and how the fact that Hillary hid documents on her private server for two years, along with other obstruction, has delayed the committee’s ability to complete its investigation. Here Gowdy’s opening in its entirety:

Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods served this country with courage and with honor. And they were killed under circumstances that most of us could never imagine. Terrorists poured through the front gate of an American facility, attacking people and property with machine guns, mortars, and fire. It is important that we remember how these four men died. It is equally important that we remember how these four men lived and why.

They were more than four images on a television screen. They were husbands and fathers and sons and brothers and 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 went out and actually tried to make it better and it cost them their lives.

So we know what they gave us. What do we owe them?

GOWDY: Justice for those that killed them. We owe their families our everlasting gratitude, respect. 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 were killed, the truth about requests for additional security, the truth about requests for additional personnel, the truth about requests for additional 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, and 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 and facility 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? What precautions, if any, were taken on the anniversary of 9/11? What happened in Washington after the first attack? And what was our 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 represented, served and sacrificed for?

Even after an Accountability Review Board and a half dozen congressional investigations, these and other questions still lingered. These questions linger, because previous investigations were 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 I hasten to add, asked this committee to write the final accounting of what happened in Benghazi. This committee is the first committee to review more than 50,000 pages of documents, because we insisted that 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 and even the White House.

This committee is the first committee to demand access to the e- mails to and from Ambassador Chris Stevens. How could an investigation possibly be considered serious without reviewing the e- mails 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 personnel e- mail on her own personal server for official business and kept the public record, including e-mails about Benghazi and Libya, in her own custody and control for almost two years after she left office.

You will hear a lot today about the Accountability Review Board. Secretary Clinton has mentioned it more than 70 times in her previous testimony before Congress. But when you hear about the ARB, you should know the State Department leadership hand picked the members of the ARB.

The ARB never interviewed secretary Clinton. The ARB never reviewed her e-mails. And Secretary Clinton’s top adviser was allowed to review and suggest changes to the ARB before the public ever saw it. There’s no transcript of ARB interviews. So, it’s impossible to mow whether all relevant questions were asked and answered. Because there’s no transcript, it is also impossible to cite the 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. And that is true. It should make you wonder why those investigations failed to interview so many witnesses and access so many documents.

If those previous congressional investigations were really serious and thorough, how did they miss Ambassador Stevens’ e-mails? If those previous investigations were serious and thorough, how did they miss Secretary Clinton’s e-mails? If those congressional investigations really were serious and thorough, why did they fail to interview dozens of key State Department witnesses, including agents on the ground who experienced the attacks firsthand?

GOWDY: 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 e-mails related to Libya and Benghazi, three years after the attacks.

A little over two weeks ago, this committee received nearly 1,400 pages of Ambassador Stevens’ e-mails, 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 anybody else and testimony from witnesses who survived the attacks.

Madam Secretary, I understand there are people frankly in both parties who have suggested that this investigation is about you. Let me assure you it is not. And let me assure you why it is not. This investigation is about four people who were killed representing our country on foreign soil.

It is about what happened before, during and after the attacks that killed them. It is about what this country owes to those who risk their lives to serve it. And it is about the fundamental obligation of government to tell the truth always to the people that it purports to represent.

Madam Secretary, not a single member of this committee signed up to investigate you or your e-mail. We signed up to investigate and therefore honor the lives of four people that we sent into a dangerous country to represent us. And to do everything we can to prevent it from happening to others. Our committee has interviewed half a 100 witnesses. Not a single one of them has been named Clinton until today.

You were the secretary of state for this country at all relevant times. So, of course, the committee is going to want to talk to you. You are an important witness. You are one important witness among half a hundred important witnesses. And I do understand you wanted to come sooner than today. So let me be clear why that did not happen.

You had an unusual e-mail arrangement which meant the State Department could not produce your e-mails to us. You made exclusive use of personal e-mail and a personal server. And when you left the State Department, you kept the public record to yourself for almost two years. And it was you and your attorneys who decided what to return and what to delete. Those decisions were your decisions, not our decisions. It was only in March of this year we learned of this e-mail arrangement. And since we learned of this e-mail arrangement, we have interviewed dozens of witnesses, only one of whom was solely related to your e-mail arrangement. And that was the shortest interview of all, because that witness invoked his fifth amendment privilege against incrimination.

Making sure the public record is complete is what we serious investigations do. It’s important and remains important that this committee have access to all of Ambassador Stevens’ e-mails, the e- mails of senior leaders and witnesses and it is important to gain access to all of your e-mails, Madam Secretary.

Your e-mails are no less or no more important than the e-mails of anyone else. It just took us a little bit longer to get them and it garnered a little 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 to us. They won’t.

Take note of how many witnesses congressional Democrats ask us to schedule for interview. They won’t. We would be closer to finding out what happened and writing the final definitive report if Democrats on this committee had helped us just a little bit pursue the facts. But if the Democrats on this committee had their way, dozens of witnesses never would have been interviewed, your public record would still be private.

Thousands of documents would never be accessed and we wouldn’t have the e-mails of our own ambassador. That may be smart politics, but it is a lousy 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 comes self-scrutiny, even of the highest officials.

GOWDY: 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, frankly, a long time ago, which is interview all relevant witnesses, examine all relevant evidence, and access all relevant documents. And we’re going to pursue the truth in a manner worthy of the memory of the four people who lost their lives and worthy of the respect of our fellow citizens.

And we are going to write that final definitive accounting of what happened in Benghazi. We would like to do it with your help and the help of our Democrat colleagues, but make no mistake, 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 that we send into harm’s way. They deserve the truth. They deserve the whole truth. They deserve nothing but the truth. The people we work for deserve the truth. The friends and family of the four who lost their lives deserve the truth.

We’re going to find the truth because there is no statute of limitations on the truth.

With that, I would recognize my friend my Maryland.