The House Select Committee on Benghazi on Friday issued a subpoena for a Defense Department official who recently falsely claimed that the military could not identify a drone operator who was working on the night of the Benghazi attacks.
The identity of the drone operator, who has been publicly identified only as “John from Iowa,” has long been known to the Air Force, Select Committee chairman Trey Gowdy said Thursday after he was interviewed.
Despite that revelation, Stephen Hedger, who serves as assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, claimed in a strongly-worded letter sent to the committee in April that the drone operator could not be identified. (RELATED: Defense Department’s Benghazi Letter Reeks Of Democratic Coordination)
He said that the Defense Department “has expended significant resources to locate anyone who might match the description of this person, to no avail.”
The operator called into Sean Hannity’s radio program in May 2013 to say that he had not been interviewed about the attacks. Republican investigators said they stumbled across a news article referring to the operator in March and issued a request to the Defense Department to interview the man.
In a statement announcing the subpoena for Hedger, Gowdy also suggested that the former Democratic congressional aide and others at the Defense Department may have tried to shield the drone operator’s identity.
“This Pentagon political appointee claimed in an official letter to the committee the Department of Defense could not find a requested witness, despite expending ‘significant resources’ searching for him,” Gowdy said.
“This witness is still on active duty and confirmed Thursday the Air Force knew exactly who he was — a drone sensor operator who was operating over Benghazi on the night of the attacks,” he added.
“Mr. Hedger will now have the opportunity to detail exactly what ‘resources’ he ‘expended’ and how. I look forward to him explaining the serious questions that have arisen with respect to this matter, including whether they are related to incompetence or deliberate concealment of the witness from a congressional inquiry.”
Committee Democrats immediately circled the wagons around the Defense Department and Hedger, who has worked for Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill and New York Rep. Steve Israel, both ardent supporters of Hillary Clinton.
“This latest abuse of authority by House Republicans is ridiculous and a desperate distraction from a failed investigation,” Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat, said in a statement.
“There was absolutely no reason to unilaterally subpoena the legislative staff of the Pentagon — after ignoring their request for a meeting — except to retaliate against the Defense Department for exposing the Select Committee’s abuses, delay this partisan investigation even further into the election season, and distract from the fact that the Republicans have come up empty in their three-year attack on Hillary Clinton.”
Democrats also claimed that Republicans waited “659 days after the Select Committee was established” to seek out an interview with “John from Iowa.”
“It turns out that ‘John’ was the individual’s middle name rather than his first name,” the Democrats’ press release states. “During his interview, this individual offered little new information, instead referring the Select Committee back to the video the Pentagon had made available more than a year earlier.”
Republicans responded to those claims, with Republican press secretary Jamal Ware accusing Democrats of “incessantly whin[ing]” about the length of the committee’s investigation.
Though no Democrats attended the interviews with the drone pilots, the minority staff issued a press release asserting that their testimony provided little in the way of new information about the attacks.
“Democrats belie their own political motivation and lack of interest in conducting a serious investigation when they would rather accept briefings provided by the Pentagon than talk to the actual Air Force operators who were conducting missions over Benghazi that night,” Ware continued, also alleging that the Democrats’ spokesman has been “willing to mischaracterize the witnesses’ testimony.”
He said that the operators were able to provide information about what they were directed to look for, what information the attempted to gather and what information was passed up the chain of command.
“Chairman Gowdy wants answers under oath and he wants them quickly — a subpoena accomplishes both,” Ware said. “The Democrats and administration incessantly whine about the committee’s length, so they shouldn’t be surprised when the committee cuts to the chase.”