Top Republicans Split Over Value of General's Benghazi Testimony
Thursday, May 1, 2014 09:12 PM
By: Todd Beamon
Two senior House Republicans from California squared off Thursday over testimony by a retired Air Force general that the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans was terrorism — underscoring what one political observer told Newsmax was yet another rift that divides the GOP as it heads into the fall's congressional elections.
In testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, retired Brig. Gen. Robert Lovell testified that U.S. forces "should have tried" to get to the Libyan outpost in time to help save Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, including two Navy SEALs.
Lovell, who was deputy director for intelligence at Africa Command at the time, blamed the State Department for not making stronger requests for action. It was clear, he said, that the assault was terrorism and not a protest to an anti-Muslim video, as the Obama administration initially described it.
"Four individuals died," he told the 38-member committee. "We obviously did not respond in time to get there.
"There was a lot of looking to the State Department for what it was that they wanted, and in the deference to the Libyan people and the sense of deference to the desires of the State Department," Lovell said.
When he was asked whether the military was allowed to respond sufficiently, Lovell said it was not.
"The military could have made a response of some sort," he said.
But Rep. Buck McKeon, the California Republican who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, slammed Lovell's testimony, saying that he was too far down the chain on Sept. 11, 2012, to provide strong insight into what occurred and that his comments provided no new information.
"He confirmed what my committee has understood for some time, that the military never believed this was a protest gone bad, and that the president fundamentally failed to posture our forces to respond to any emergency in the weeks before 9/11," McKeon said in a statement.
The congressman, who is retiring after 11 terms in the House, added that Lovell "did not serve in a capacity that gave him reliable insight into operational options available to commanders during the attack, nor did he offer specific courses of action not taken.
"The Armed Services Committee has interviewed more than a dozen witnesses in the operational chain of command that night, yielding thousands of pages of transcripts, e-mails, and other documents," the statement added. "We have no evidence that Department of State officials delayed the decision to deploy what few resources [the Department of Defense] had available to respond.
"In the end," McKeon said, "while …Lovell did not further the investigation or reveal anything new, he was another painful reminder of the agony our military felt that night; wanting to respond but unable to do so."
McKeon's statement was a direct slap to his fellow Golden State Republican, Rep. Darrell Issa, the Oversight Committee's chairman, who has long kept up the pressure on the White House to fully explain the attacks that also killed information management officer Sean Smith and former SEALs, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.
Lovell, Issa said in his opening statement, "brings with him first-hand knowledge of U.S. military efforts in Libya." He added that the oversight panel has interviewed Benghazi witnesses in investigations with the Armed Services Committee.
The congressman added that Lovell's testimony came "in a week in which the American people have learned that you cannot believe what the White House says, you cannot believe what the spokespeople say, and you cannot believe what the president says."
Issa was referring to a 2012 email released by Judicial Watch on Tuesday that showed White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes advising former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to link the Benghazi attacks to the anti-Muslim video.
Rice, now President Barack Obama's national security adviser, gave the explanation on five Sunday talk shows after the attacks.
The Rhodes email was not provided to the Oversight Committee in its subpoena for documents on the attacks last year.
After McKeon's statement was released, an Oversight Committee spokesman told Newsmax in a statement: "General Lovell’s important testimony underscores why Americans, and specifically Benghazi victims’ families, have been unsatisfied with closed-door and incomplete evaluations of the military response.
"The Oversight Committee intends to continue its investigation into interagency communication failures that contributed to the attack’s tragic outcome."
In addition, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the armed services panel, echoed McKeon's assessment, saying that it was "deeply disturbing that false claims continue to be made about that tragic night."
The McKeon statement has now polarized the Benghazi debate — and angry Republicans led by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, intensified their calls for an inquiry by a special joint committee.
The McKeon/Issa rift over the Libyan attacks is "endemic of the division the Republicans face on Benghazi and on virtually every other issue," political analyst and pollster Doug Schoen told Newsmax.
"The Republican Party is deeply divided," he said in an interview. "The division extends to economic policy, foreign policy, political tactics. On virtually every dimension, the Republicans are not united as a party."
These continued divisions jeopardize the GOP's ability to parlay President Obama's poor polling numbers and a general malaise toward the administration among Americans into victory in November, he said.
"The fact that they can't develop a consistent position tells you a lot about how difficult a process they're going to have unifying themselves and coming together," Schoen said.
He said he believed Lovell's testimony to be "pretty compelling," but added that McKeon's statement raised "fact-based" questions over whether the retired general was qualified to give it.
"This is a fact-based issue, but it is a fundamental difference. It's that on virtually every issue and on every aspect, they're divided.
"These are fact-based questions on what was obviously a terrorist attack that has caused enormous damage to the United States, where four Americans tragically died on the anniversary of 9/11.
"It is a fundamental question — and we still do not have answers," Schoen continued. "That we know: We don't have answers. And that's about all we know."