South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy said Wednesday that the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which he chairs, has heard from witnesses who say that U.S. security team members were given stand-down orders as the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks were taking place.
Gowdy hastened to add that the Committee has also heard from witnesses who say the opposite, that the orders were not issued.
“There are witnesses who say there was one, there are witnesses who say there was not one,” Gowdy said during an interview with Boston Herald Radio.
Whether or not stand-down orders were given to U.S. security forces has become a major point of contention in the ongoing investigation into the attacks in Benghazi, which left four Americans dead.
The CIA, State Department and Obama White House have denied that the orders were given. But several members of the security team that responded to the attacks have claimed in interviews that a CIA officer ordered them to stand down while the attacks were unfolding.
“The best I can do is tell you what the witnesses say, and then you can decide who you think is more credible,” Gowdy said in the interview.
During her testimony to the Benghazi Committee in October, former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton denied that she issued a stand-down order. Leon Panetta, who was Secretary of Defense at the time of the attacks, has also denied that the order was given. Panetta was interviewed by Gowdy’s committee behind closed doors earlier this month.
In 2014, the House Intelligence Committee determined that no stand-down orders were given.
But the controversy is expected to receive renewed attention upon the release this weekend of “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.” The Michael Bay-directed film is based on the book, “13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi,” written by Mitchell Zuckoff and members of the security team that fought off the Benghazi attackers.
Three of those team members, Kris “Tanto” Paronto, Mark “Oz” Geist, and John “Tig” Tiegen, have given numerous interviews in which they say they were delayed in responding to the Benghazi attacks for 30 minutes after being ordered to stand down.
The soldiers have said they believe that if they had been allowed to respond to the attacks earlier they may have saved the lives of the murdered Americans.
In his interview, Gowdy said he doubts that “assets in the region” could have reached Benghazi in order to save the first two Americans killed in the attack — Amb. Chris Stevens and State Department information officer Sean Smith. Both died of smoke inhalation inside of the U.S. consulate as it was being assailed by terrorists.
“The second attack, the one where we lost Glen Doherty and Ty Woods,” Gowdy said, referring to the two CIA specialists killed in a later attack, “that is an eminently fair question.”
“Number one, did we have assets in the region that could have responded? But an equally important question is, if the answer to that question is no, why not?” Gowdy asked, saying that assets should have been nearby given that it was the anniversary of 9/11.Gowdy also previewed an interview he was set to have Wednesday with Jeremy Bash, who served as chief of staff at the Defense Department during the Benghazi attacks.
Bash authored an email in the midst of the attacks stating that military assets were in place “that could move to Benghazi.”
“They are spinning up as we speak,” Bash wrote.
The Committee’s interview with Bash marks the 69th interview that the panel has conducted since it was formed in June 2014.