The Defense Department official who last week sent a pointed letter hammering the Benghazi Committee’s investigation into the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks, has deep connections to Democrats, as does the agency’s new liaison to the committee.
The direct tone of the letter, as well as the fact that it was leaked and publicized by committee Democrats, raises questions over whether the document was crafted in order to stymie the committee’s investigation.
In a letter to South Carolina Rep. [crscore]Trey Gowdy[/crscore], Stephen Hedger, who serves as assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, accused Republicans on the committee of employing “unproductive” tactics and issuing “continuous threats” to subpoena Defense Department employees.
“The number and continued pace of these requests since February 2016 are in tension with your staff’s statements that the Committee expects to finish its investigation in the near term,” wrote Hedger in the letter, which is unusual for its directness.
Democrats on the committee released the letter on their website, and cited it as proof that the Republican-led investigation is a politically-motivated attack on Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the Benghazi attacks, which left four Americans dead.
“The Department of Defense has a critical job to do, which is to keep our nation safe from those who would do us harm,” Maryland Rep. [crscore]Elijah Cummings[/crscore], the ranking Democrat on the committee, said in a statement. “But Republicans continue to squander millions of taxpayer dollars chasing right-wing conspiracy theories and forcing Pentagon officials to waste their time on this partisan fishing expedition.”
But Hedger’s past political work and that the Defense Department’s liaison to the committee, a former White House lawyer named Beth George, raises questions over whether the agency coordinated with Benghazi Democrats.
Hedger, an Iraq War veteran, previously worked as a staffer to New York Rep. [crscore]Steve Israel[/crscore] and Missouri Sen. [crscore]Claire McCaskill[/crscore], both ardent Clinton supporters and vocal critics of the Benghazi Committee’s work.
George also has connections to the Democratic side of the committee. Prior to her appointment as Defense’s liaison in March, she worked as associated counsel in the Obama White House.
And between September 2013 and June 2014, she served as counsel to the assistant attorney general in the national security division of the Justice Department.
That’s the same division that will decide if federal prosecutors will press charges at the conclusion of the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s private email server.
George’s supervisor at the Department of Justice was Daniel Grooms, who served as senior counselor in the national security division from April 2013 to February 2014. Grooms’ wife, Susanne Sachsman Grooms, has served as staff director for the Benghazi Democrats since July 2014.
According to a Politico profile of Benghazi staffers last year, Grooms has worked for Cummings since 2011 and served as counsel on several high-profile investigations, including the Fast and Furious gun running scandal and the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups.
She also worked for Cummings when California Rep. [crscore]Darrell Issa[/crscore], a Republican, led the House Oversight Committee’s investigation of the terrorist attacks, which left four Americans dead.
George’s wife is also connected to agencies at the center of the Benghazi investigation. Tess Bridgeman worked in the State Department’s office of the legal adviser from August 2011 to August 2014. She now works as deputy legal adviser for the White House’s National Security Council. The Benghazi Committee has interviewed officials from both agencies.
The Democratic side of the Benghazi Committee did not respond to a request for comment by press time. Committee Republicans declined comment.
Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson, a spokeswoman for the Defense Department, said that the agency looks forward “to engaging with the Committee on the substance of the letter.”
“ASD Hedger’s letter addresses substantive concerns of the Department about the Committee’s investigation, including the Department’s long held principles of non-partisan, substantive engagements with the Congress,” she told TheDC.
A spokesman for the Republicans said last week that Hedger’s letter showed that the committee is conducting a thorough investigation.
“This letter is further proof the Benghazi Committee is conducting a thorough, fact-centered investigation,” committee spokesman Matt Wolking said in a statement, according to The Post.
He also said that it was “unfortunate it took the threat of subpoenas for the Pentagon to make witnesses available earlier this year.”
“This delayed the committee from learning a tremendous amount of new information from several witnesses, and when they refer the committee to others in the department, the responsible thing to do is to interview them. What is DOD so afraid of? Why are they supposedly unable to find their own employees?”
So far Republicans on the Committee have interviewed nearly 100 witnesses. They say 75 of those witnesses were not interviewed during previous Benghazi probes.