The Republican head of the House’s Armed Services Committee issued a statement sharply criticizing the testimony of his own party’s star witness in the latest hearing on Benghazi only minutes after the session concluded, going against his colleagues’ enthusiasm to hear just what the Obama administration did wrong the night of the attack.
Air Force Brigadier General Robert Lovell (ret.) was the key witness at today’s hearing, the latest in a string of inquisitions from Oversight Committee chair Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) into Benghazi since the 2012 tragedy. During his testimony, Lovell raised eyebrows by insisting that the U.S. did not try to save the Americans stationed in the eastern Libyan city. “The discussion is not in the ‘could or could not’ in relation to time, space and capability, the point is we should have tried,” Lovell, who served at U.S. Africa Command’s headquarters in Germany the night of the attack, told the panel.
Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), however, took issue with the contents of Lovell’s testimony, issuing a release dismissing the suggestion that the military could have acted to halt the attack in time to save lives. “I appreciate the service of Brigadier General Robert Lovell and his willingness to testify,” the release from McKeon, chair of the Armed Services Committee, reads. “He confirmed what my committee has understood for some time, that the military never believed this was a protest gone bad, and that the President fundamentally failed to posture our forces respond to any emergency in the weeks before 9/11.”
“Beyond those confirmations, BG Lovell did not serve in a capacity that gave him reliable insight into operational options available to commanders during the attack, nor did he offer specific courses of action not taken,” the statement continues. “The Armed Services Committee has interviewed more than a dozen witnesses in the operational chain of command that night, yielding thousands of pages of transcripts, e-mails, and other documents.”
Members of the House GOP have been on something of a renewed Benghazi kick as of late, particularly thanks to a new batch of White House emails from the days after the attack that were recently released. Those emails have fanned the flames on the right among those who believe that the administration launched a cover-up of failures during the night of the attack and gave today’s Oversight Committee hearing a jolt of energy.
Lovell also pointed squarely to the State Department as part of the reason no rescue mission was launched once the first news of the attack reached Washington. “Basically, there was a lot of looking to the State Department for what they wanted and the deference to the Libyan people and the sense of deference to the desires of the State Department in terms of what they would like to have,” the retired general said. That too was debunked in McKeon’s statement: We have no evidence that Department of State officials delayed the decision to deploy what few resources DoD had available to respond.”
The House Armed Services Committee report released in February made waves for being the first of the Republican-led investigations into the attack and its aftermath that absolved the military of acting improperly during the assault. “Given the military’s preparations on September 11, 2012, majority members have not yet discerned any response alternatives that could have likely changed the outcome of the Benghazi attack,” the report concludes. The same document also contradicts the idea, deeply entrenched on the right, that any sort of “stand-down” order was given to the military urging them to not respond to the assault.
“In the end, while BG Lovell did not further the investigation or reveal anything new, he was another painful reminder of the agony our military felt that night; wanting to respond but unable to do so,” McKeon’s statement concludes.
House Democrats have for weeks now been pleading with the Republican leadership to drop the issue of Benghazi in favor of more pressing issues. Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), McKeon’s Democratic counterpart on the HASC, said last month that the the investigations have been “relentlessly partisan” and focused on finding something that can be used to embarrass the administration.