Cummings Opening Statement Hearing on Benghazi
Below is Ranking Member Cummings’s opening statement, as prepared for delivery, for today’s Full Committee hearing on Benghazi.
Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings
Hearing on “Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage”
Mr. Hicks, I would like to start by expressing my gratitude for your service and my condolences for your loss. I can only imagine what you went through on the night of the attacks. If I had been in your place—hearing Ambassador Stevens’ voice on the phone and wanting to do everything possible to help him—I would have had the same questions you had: Where is the military? Where are the special forces? Where are the fighter jets to rescue my colleagues?
These are legitimate questions, and I wanted to know the answers myself. For example, last week there was a widely publicized news report that a team in Europe called the Commanders In-Extremis Force could have gotten to Benghazi before the second attack. When I heard this claim, I wrote to the Secretary of Defense. Yesterday, I received an official response. It says this press report was wrong. The team was too far away, and the logistical requirements were too great.
Others have suggested that F-16s stationed at Aviano Air Force Base in Italy could have gotten there in time. But according to General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who testified before the Senate in February, they could not. General Carter Ham, the former head of the U.S. Africa Command, agreed.
The fact is that our nation’s top military commanders have testified repeatedly that they did everything in their power to mobilize and deploy assets as soon as possible, and every independent and bipartisan review has confirmed this fact. We have the best military in the world, but even with all of their technological advances, they could not get there in time.
Mr. Hicks, I know these answers provide no comfort to you or the families of the victims, but this is the testimony Congress has received, and I have seen nothing to make me question the truthfulness of our nation’s military commanders.
Our Committee has a fundamental obligation to conduct responsible oversight, and that includes carefully examining the information that you and others provide. But we also have a duty to thoroughly investigate these claims before we make public accusations.
In contrast, what we have seen over the past two weeks is a full-scale media campaign that is not designed to investigate what happened in a responsible and bipartisan manner, but rather to launch unfounded accusations and to smear public officials.
Let me be clear: I am not questioning the motives of our witnesses. I am questioning the motives of those who want to use them for political purposes.
Chairman Issa has accused the Administration of intentionally withholding military assets—which could have helped save lives on the night of the attacks—for political reasons. Of all the irresponsible allegations leveled over the past two weeks, this is the most troubling. And based on what our military commanders have told us, this allegation is false.
Chairman Issa suggested that four military personnel were told to stay in Tripoli rather than board a plane for Benghazi at 6 a.m. the morning after the attacks, supposedly because of the Administration’s political desire not to have a military presence in Benghazi. There is no evidence to support this claim. As Mr. Hicks told the Committee, one plane had already left for Benghazi at 1:15 a.m. that night, and it included a seven-person security team with two military personnel. The decision the next morning to keep four military personnel in place in Tripoli was not made by the White House or the State Department, but by the military chain of command.
There are other allegations. Chairman Issa went on national television and accused Secretary Clinton of lying to Congress. He said she personally signed a State Department cable authorizing security reductions. We have now seen this cable, and she did not sign it. Her name is printed at the bottom just like tens of thousands of cables sent every year from the Department. The Washington Post Fact Checker called this accusation a “whopper” and gave it “Four Pinocchios.”
Chairman Issa attacked Ambassador Susan Rice for statements she made on the Sunday talk shows, claiming the Administration “deliberately misled” the American people. This claim has been directly contradicted by our nation’s top intelligence official, General James Clapper. He testified before the Senate that these attacks against Ms. Rice are “unfair” because “she was going on what we had given her, and that was our collective best judgment at the time.”
There have also been allegations that the Accountability Review Board led by Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Mike Mullen failed to examine the role of Ambassador Patrick Kennedy. This accusation is inaccurate, according to the Board.
Mr. Chairman, if this Committee is going to suggest that General Dempsey, General Ham, and General Clapper are involved in a conspiracy of withholding military assets and then covering it up, and if this Committee is going to accuse Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen of failing to fully investigate these attacks, the least you could have done is invite these officials here today to answer these serious charges face-to-face.
I respect the witnesses who are here today to offer their testimony. But today’s hearing is not the full story. I hope we will eventually hear from our military, intelligence, and diplomatic officials. Then, I hope we can turn to the real work of this Committee, which is ensuring that the Department implements the recommendations to improve the security of our diplomatic officials serving overseas.