Florida Congressman Ron DeSantis On His Angle In The Benghazi Hearing Wednesday
HH: I want to conclude with Ron DeSantis, who is the 12th member of the House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee I have interviewed in the last two days. Congressman DeSantis represents Florida’s 6th Congressional district, is a veteran. Welcome back, Congressman, always a pleasure to talk to you.
RD: Hey, Hugh, man, you are practically the special counsel for the Committee now. Good work.
HH: Well, you know, when I get something in my head, I want to make sure it gets asked. And I want someone to ask whether or not any of these witnesses tomorrow felt they feel that the administration senior officials are lying. What’s your line of questioning going to be, Congressman?
RD: Well, obviously, that overshadows everything. I’ve been assigned, and you know, we’re trying to do this strategically, to focus on from the point of attack when they knew immediately they were under attack at about 10pm on September 11th, Libya time, to 5:15 in the morning when Tyrone Woods and Dougherty were killed. Why were they not provided more support? We expect that Greg Hicks is going to say that there was a SOP unit from Tripoli that was ordered to stand down. We know that there have been a lot of excuses about why there couldn’t have been some type of air support sent, even if it was just a fixed wing aircraft to buzz, because you had a lot of these terrorists were milling about. And we think that that may have been able to disburse them. So what does Greg Hicks think of that? And then obviously, how is the administration’s rationale for what they did? How does that check out with what he saw on the ground?
HH: Now you’re bringing your military background to this, but I have pointed out to a couple of your colleagues that just serendipitously, Rorke Denver, the retired Navy SEAL who wrote the book, Damn Few, recounts that in Iraq, he had the assistance of a Super Hornet F-18 buzzing al Qaeda in Iraq, even though it had no ordinance left, because it does work. That’s not uncommon. Any answers yet as to why that wasn’t called for?
RD: That’s going to be my line of questioning. And you’re absolutely right. When you have an F-18 buzz you, that is such a powerful thing. These guys would have scattered. I mean, they had RPG’s, and they had mortars, but that would have been a whole different level of would-be firepower, they would have thought. And so something should have happened, and you know, and this will be covered. It won’t be my line of questioning, but leading up to it, you know, Stevens goes on September 10th, this is a terrible situation. Why were we not more prepared to respond to folks who were there? And I don’t think, you know, I read this administrative review board. It was a lot of bureaucratic blaming systemic failures, all this stuff. No one was really held accountable. And I’m also on the Foreign Affairs Committee. I didn’t get to ask Hillary questions, because I was so junior, she was done by the time it got to me. But you know, we really didn’t do a good job of asking her kind of short, direct questions, getting her on the record about all of these things. I think she was able to kind of filibuster through a lot of this stuff. So my hope is I do think we have a good plan on the Committee. I’m going to focus on what I said. But I think these three witnesses are going to provide a lot of information that’s going to contradict what the administration had said, and I’m hoping that this provides the fuel for a select committee to really get into this, because Oversight, we have a great committee, but we deal with all these other issues, too. And I think it would be helpful to have kind of one committee that’s dedicated to get some people with investigative and prosecutorial experience, and let them go, and let’s get all these people on the record. I’d like to bring Hillary back. I’d like to talk to Victoria Nuland. What was her role in scrubbing these talking points? There’s just so much out there, and they were able to not really be held accountable for them.
HH: Now earlier today, I talked with Kelly Ayotte, Senator from New Hampshire, deeply involved in this She said the select committee could be stood up very, very quickly, and it would be very easy to get it going. And Trey Gowdy agrees with you. Jim Jordan agrees with you. I know there’s a split in the House Republican conference, but I sure hope the Speaker’s listening. A couple of points from the interim report of the five committees, Congressman DeSantis. Page 11 of the interim report states Ambassador Stevens traveled to Benghazi on September 10, 2012, to fill staffing gaps between principal officers in Benghazi, and to allow him to reconnect with local contacts. He also planned to attend the establishment of a new American corner at a local Benghazi school. Do you believe that’s an adequate explanation of what he was doing there?
RD: No, I don’t, and especially with the reports and pretty consistent requests for more security, and the notion that pretty much everyone who was there realized that it was not a good environment. So I’m curious about the whole situation. It just seemed it would be an odd thing to do the day before the 9/11 anniversary.
HH: There is also on Page 15 an extraordinarily puzzling paragraph. In addition, the House Armed Services Committee conducted a review of air assets available to respond to Benghazi. No U.S. government element refused or denied requests for emergency assistance during the crisis. The evidence also does not show that there were armed air assets above Benghazi at any time, or any such assets were called off from assisting U.S. personnel on the ground. According to witness testimony, the security officials on the ground did use laser sights, but they did so as an escalatory demonstration of force in an effort to deter some attackers. They were not lasing targets for air assets. That a common tactic, Congressman DeSantis? Because I’ve been told it’s not.
RD: Not in my experience, and this also conflicts, I think, with what Hicks is going to say, that there was a denial of support. Now granted, I think this interim report, this was put out probably around the same time that the Committee was interviewing Hicks, so I don’t know if his testimony is reflected in this aspect of it. So yeah, I don’t understand that. I mean, they were able to get a UAV above, I think, relatively quickly. And so we had a sense of who was on the ground, so I don’t know why, and I just can’t imagine that there wasn’t a request for assets, given the situation there.
HH: And do you expect Mr. Hicks is going to be able to speak to the emotional reaction when they figured out that help was not on the way when requested?
RD: Absolutely, and that’s one of the most powerful aspects of this, is you know, people make mistakes in government all the time. But one thing we do is we don’t leave people behind. And for whatever reason, Mr. Woods and Mr. Dougherty were left behind that night, and I think that’s really what drives a lot of folks in my district who want answers, because you know, these guys were American heroes. They were there in harm’s way. We could have done more. I think the evidence shows, I think Hicks is going to say that, and the question is, why didn’t we?
HH: And question discipline tomorrow from the Republicans, but do you expect obstruction and filibuster from your colleagues on the other side of the aisle?
RD: Oh, absolutely, especially on that committee. They’re masters at that. So they’re going to basically say oh, this is just politics, this, that and the other thing, these questions have been answered in the ARB. Now of course, Hicks is going to show how that ARB isn’t even close to complete. But yeah, the Democrats, they’re going to say this is all politics, although Stephen Lynch, Democrat from Massachusetts, has acknowledged that scrubbing the talking points was unacceptable. So we may have had a little crack there where they’ll want to actually get to the bottom of this. Look, the President’s been reelected. I understand we were in the middle of a campaign. They didn’t want this coming out. It conflicted with the narrative. But I think some of these Democrats should have a desire to figure out why these guys weren’t helped when they were in harm’s way, why the talking points were scrubbed. I mean, these are just legitimate questions that I don’t think their constituents are happy with, either.
HH: Congressman Ron DeSantis of Florida’s 6th Congressional district, good luck tomorrow. We’ll check in with you after the hearings are concluded, and I hope you get the Speaker’s attention on the select committee.
End of interview.