Darrell Issa Questions Senate Benghazi Report On Whether Rescue Assets Were Deployable
HH: I open the show on Benghazi, because the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report today, and I’m pleased to welcome Congressman Darrell Issa, who is chairman of the House Government Affairs and Oversight Committee. Chairman Issa, welcome back, Happy 2014 to you.
DI: Well, it would be happier if the elections had turned out differently, but the fact is that we’re starting off the year doing something that hasn’t happened since Denny Hastert was Speaker, before the Democrats took control, which is we’re at least voting a full year of funding of the government, and one that complies with a budget for the first time. Don’t love the budget, but at least there was one.
HH: When we get done, if we have time, I want to talk to you about the COLA, but let’s go to the Senate Intelligence Committee. What’s your overall reaction to this report, the findings of which are in front of me?
DI: Well, I think the important thing is that Senator Feinstein has done a 180 from her earlier September, you know, right after the attack, where she was going along with this whole video concept. Today, she’s very stridently opposed to the false statements put out by the New York Times, and of course by Ambassador Rice in the days that followed Benghazi.
HH: And I am curious especially, Mr. Chairman, about finding number 7 – There was no U.S. military resources in position to intervene in short order in Benghazi to help defend the temporary mission facility and its annex. But then it goes on to quote Major General Darryl Roberson as saying the Strike Eagles that were loaded at Djibouti, it would have taken them the distance of Washington to L.A., but it doesn’t say they couldn’t have gotten there by the time the second battle was over.
DI: Well, you’re exactly right that he, they were not launched. And of course the question isn’t could they have gotten there in time, because at the beginning of this, no one knew how long it was going to last. For those of us young enough or old enough to remember that famous scene from Top Gun where he’s on his way in and he says I’ll be there in two minutes, and he says well, this firefight will be over by then. Well, you don’t know that. You don’t know how long one is going to go on. It went on eight and a half hours. The truth is they didn’t know. The only launch that occurred was that Marines were prepped to come in to represent backup security in Tripoli. They took 23 and a half hours to get in, because they weren’t provided military lift. And eventually, the lift they got was C-130s that had come down, I believe, from England. But Hugh, I want you to understand that this statement may be technically true, but let me tell you what isn’t in there. We have three allies in the region that are supplied with KC-135s. We sustain the fleet by us at no cost to them. That’s Egypt, Turkey and Israel. Israel has, I believe, seven KC-135s, and as you know, the Israelis are always available in a matter of minutes. They’re always aware that their attackers doesn’t give them any standoff. So the real question is if you know you have refuelers that could take care of our F-16s and make them able to get in from Italy, did you call Bibi Netanyahu? And the answer is no. So did you do everything you could do with our allies to attempt to prepare a relief effort of some sort? The answer is no. And that’s not in the report.
HH: Also not in the report, Chairman Issa, is much talk of Secretary of State Clinton. Is this a whitewash?
DI: You know, whitewash would imply that there’s a enough cover that you’re not seeing something. I think we all see very transparently that Secretary Clinton’s administration of the State Department denied the Ambassador the security he asked for before the attack, did not allow assets that were available, such as the Special Ops people who could have gotten into that aircraft and were told effectively to stand down to come to the rescue. And very, very clearly, she has to own responsibility for one of her ambassadors, even at the direction of the White House, falsely stating it was a video on all five Sunday shows.
HH: So is it an attempted whitewash, then?
DI: Well, I certainly think the New York Times clouding of the issue trying to bring up the false statement that it was somehow a video once again plays pretty close to a whitewash for the former New York Senator. But you know, the New York Times has no credibility in truth. They’re like a stopped clock. They’re right once in a while, but only when the time happens to match when they stop.
HH: But I’m talking about the Senate report itself. Do you think this Senate report is an attempted whitewash?
DI: Not really, because the Senate report is pretty critical. It makes it very clear that assets that should have been put on high alert for September 11th weren’t. It makes it clear that it wasn’t an intelligence failure that the recognition of the threat of al Qaeda and al Qaeda-sympathizing organizations in the region was there. It makes it very clear that the State Department and DOD didn’t do their jobs. And I think that’s all you really could do from an intelligence standpoint, is make it clear that assets were not where they should have been based on threat assessment that was properly provided, and I think that’s the message coming out of Senate Intelligence is, and particularly, the recognition is that had the Ambassador been given the kinds of assets that he asked for, the attack may well never have occurred.
HH: Now Mr. Chairman, one of the questions that remains is what did the Secretary of State say to the Chargé d’affaires, Gregory Hicks, who was such an amazing witness in front of your committee. And Eli Lake and other serious national security correspondents believe that there are digital recordings of that call in the bowels of the NSA or somewhere. You have subpoena power. Have you issued a subpoena for all recordings or digital memory of the conversation in which Secretary Clinton took part?
DI: We have asked for them. We do have subpoenas that would cover them. And we have not received them. But just to let you know how not transparent this administration is, even the paper documents, emails and the like that we’ve used in our discovery, we only get to go to a locked room and see them. They won’t turn them over. And as you can imagine, while we’re in court trying to get the Fast and Furious documents, going back and going to court a second and third time isn’t necessarily appropriate, but we are very close to getting a positive decision in the Fast and Furious case, where the judge will order Eric Holder to turn over the documents related to the lies told to Congress.
HH: Do you think that the subpoenas that you have issued to the NSA and other intelligence agencies would cover any digital recording or any memory recorded in any form of Secretary Clinton’s call with Mr. Hicks, because wouldn’t the transcript of that interest you?
DI: The transcript, of course, would. The testimony of Gregory Hicks has never been refuted in any way. So his credibility of what he said transpired is unchallenged. And so it would be nice to have the actual recording, but I think we can take Gregory Hicks at his word. He’s an honest man, and no one has doubted that. We do not have a subpoena to the NSA. We do to the State Department. I just want to make that clear.
HH: Would you issue one to the NSA, because they’d be the ones that have the overseas call if anyone did.
DI: Well you know, I really don’t have to issue one. I just have to say it on the radio, and they’ll know.
HH: I think, actually, a subpoena will help, and actually, all you have to do is think it these days and the NSA knows. I hope you do that, Mr. Chairman, and I hope you consider that. While we have two minutes left, I do want to talk to you on behalf of the military out there. I have been hearing all day since I talked to Paul Ryan and Lindsey Graham yesterday that active duty military with ten plus years are outraged that the Congress is cutting their COLA. And I hope you’ll vote against this deal for that reason. I think it’s a breach of faith with our men and women in uniform. But what’s your response to their criticisms and mine?
DI: Well, I think you first of all have to realize that it’s not Congress. It’s not the House. It’s not the Senate. It’s the President’s will as part of the budget agreement. So don’t give a pass to any of us. Blame us all. The decision to not do this is quite frankly because they weren’t willing to do the other hard work in pay-fors. For example, we could have paid for this by simply going to five day delivery of the Post Office. We could have paid for it in a number of other ways. And so would I vote to raise the COLA without paying for it? Absolutely not. But would I vote for offsets that would allow us to do better by our men and women in harm’s way? You’d better believe it.
HH: But my last question then is we borrowed $17 trillion dollars in this country. Why would we not borrow $6 billion to pay the men and women who’ve served their entire career in the military? Why are the only, they are the only ones we won’t borrow for?
DI: We will borrow for their pay. The COLA escalation, whether you’re a white collar worker in the federal service or uniformed service has to be within the budget, and candidly, I think that the decision was a bad decision. But the lack of courage to pay for it is important. And I just want you to understand, and all your listeners to understand, Hugh, the budget deal only saves like two billion dollars a year. So it was not a very tough deal. We did not do anything except essentially the status quo in this budget deal. It’s a rounding error of the same amount. And that’s the problem. The kinds of real cuts, the kinds of cuts that would save us fifty or sixty billion dollars in government waste every year were not touched, and they need to be touched. Just getting rid of duplicate programs can save tens of billions of dollars a year. And that’s how you find the money to pay for the military being treated fairly.
HH: Mr. Chairman, we’re out of time, but I hope you’ll rethink that, because I think the men and women in uniform just don’t think they ought to be a rounding error or forgotten. And I know you agree with me on that, and I hope you’ll work to right this wrong.
End of interview.