WASHINGTON — The Republican chairman of the new Benghazi select committee pledged Wednesday during the first public hearing to conduct an investigation “worthy of the memory of those who died and worthy of the trust of our fellow citizens.”
“I remain hopeful there are still things left in our country that can transcend politics,” South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the committee, said in his opening statement in a Capitol Hill hearing room. “I remain convinced our fellow citizens deserve all of the facts of what happened before, during, and after the attacks in Benghazi and they deserve an investigative process worthy of the memory of those who died and worthy of the trust of our fellow citizens.”
Earlier this year, lawmakers in the House passed a bill to establish the new committee to investigate the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya that left four Americans dead, including Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
“Benghazi was not the first time our diplomatic facilities and people have been attacked,” Gowdy said. “The barracks in Beirut, our facilities in Tanzania and Kenya are a few that come to mind amid too many others.”
He lamented how after these attacks occur, a commission is formed, recommendations are made — “yet it happens again.”
“So to those who believe it is time to move on, that there is nothing left to discover, that all questions have been asked and answered, that we have learned the lessons to be learned — we have heard that before,” Gowdy said. “And yet the attacks and the tragedies keep coming.”
Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the committee who was initially against the formation of the committee, said in his remarks: “Too often over the past two years, the congressional investigation into what happened in Benghazi has devolved into unseemly partisanship.”
“Today, we have an opportunity to focus on reform,” he said. “How can we learn from the past to make things better in the future? This kind of oversight can be productive, it can be critical, and it can sometimes even be tedious, but it can also save people’s lives.”
The committee heard from Greg Starr, the assistant secretary for diplomatic security; Mark J. Sullivan, the former director of the Secret Service; and Todd Keil, the former assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at the Department of Homeland Security.
Wednesday’s hearing, the first to air in public, focused on the implementation of recommendations made by the State Department’s Accountability Review Board in the wake of the attacks. The committee has been doing work and interviewing witnesses behind closed doors.
The tone was much less fiery than prior hearings on the Benghazi attacks by other congressional committees. Not until an hour and a half into the hearings did former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s name even come up.
It also drew fewer spectators than other hearings: some seats reserved for the media and the public remained empty throughout the hearing.