Investigating Benghazi: Let’s Do This Right

Jim Gilmore Former Governor of Virginia
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In the nearly eighteen months since the September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks on our diplomatic mission and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya there has been an assortment of congressional hearings and investigations by executive agencies into the whys and wherefores of the incident. But all of them have not answered the most critical questions.

Fortunately it appears that by finally agreeing to appoint a House special select committee to investigate the entire series of events – those that led up to the attacks, what happened during them, and in their aftermath – Speaker John Boehner seems to have finally resolved to get the American people the facts they deserve to know.

Congressman Adam Schiff’s (D-Ca.) suggestion that Democrats boycott Boehner’s investigative committee is entirely wrong. This investigation demands that both parties participate and that neither try to turn it into an unserious partisan spectacle. That is one reason I am pleased by Speaker Boehner’s appointment of Rep Trey Gowdy (R-SC) as the chairman of the select committee. Gowdy, though not long in congressional office, is a former federal prosecutor and is thus, by training and experience, equipped for the job.

The fact that he is a former prosecutor isn’t, as some partisans will contend, a premature judgment that wrongdoing has occurred. It’s quite the contrary. Former prosecutors, at both the state and federal levels, quickly gain experience in following the facts wherever they lead, and have neither the time nor the resources to do otherwise.

An investigation like this is a massive undertaking, as I learned in leading big investigations as Virginia’s attorney general. This raises several concerns.

First, the Obama administration has apparently been engaged in a concerted cover-up of its actions. It hasn’t produced the documents that House investigators have demanded. They are still defending the risible performances by UN Ambassador Susan Rice on the Sunday morning political talk shows in which she blamed the attacks on an obscure anti-Muslim video.

Second, Gowdy will have to carefully choose the other Republican members of the select committee, and hopefully he and Boehner will choose members with similar experience. (The Democrats can and should choose their own members.) Next, he will have to choose a highly-experienced committee counsel and chief investigator. All of the Republican staffers should be prepared for a long effort because pulling the information – documents and witnesses – won’t be quick or easy.

To get the critical documents from the White House, the CIA, the Pentagon, and the State Department will take months. The president and Attorney General Holder can be expected to delay, insist on redacting documents and may even make claims of executive privilege as they did in the investigation of the Fast and Furious gunwalking operation. Mr. Gowdy will have to use all of the investigative powers of the House to get those documents, and get them he must because without them uncooperative witnesses can’t be faced with their own paper trails.

Then, and only then, will his investigative team be ready to interview the broad range of witnesses from the Executive Branch agencies as well as the White House. All of those interviews should be made with the witnesses under oath in the manner of court depositions, with the Democrats on the committee present and able to ask their own questions. This will take even more months to do properly, because of the large number of witnesses involved and because, again, there will be instances where the administration blocks cooperation, when witnesses refuse to cooperate and answer the questions essential to getting to the truth.

At this point, we don’t even know where the president was, what he knew or what he did during the eight hours of the attacks. We know he wasn’t in the White House situation room. Apparently some of his youngest and least experienced advisors were, such as Tommy Vietor, who told Fox’s Brett Baier “Dude, this was two years ago. We’re still talking about the most mundane thing.” Was this act of war – which these attacks were – so mundane and of so little concern that they could be left in the hands of such juveniles?

The fact that Speaker Boehner waited so long to launch this investigation means that there will be very little time for it to act before the election. Already, there are fewer than thirty legislative days left in the congressional session. That means that the Speaker and Mr. Gowdy – assuming the Republicans keep the House in November – should agree now that the select committee’s investigation will continue at least through 2016. They’ll need that time to do the sort of investigation that the events – and the American people – deserve.

Jim Gilmore served as the 68th Governor of Virginia, and is the President and CEO of American Opportunity.