Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the Benghazi Select Committee, delivers an opening statement before former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s testimony.
Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods served our country with courage and with honor. They were killed under circumstances most of us could never imagine. Under cover of darkness, terrorists poured through the front gate of our facility and attacked our people and our property with machine guns, mortars and fire.
It is important we remember how these four men died. It is equally important we remember how and why they lived. They were more than four images on a television screen. They were husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, family and friends. They were Americans who believed in service and sacrifice. Many people speak wistfully of a better world, but do little about it. These four men went out and tried to make it better. And it cost them their lives.
We know what they gave us. What do we owe them? Justice for those who killed them. We owe their families our everlasting respect and gratitude. We owe them – and each other – the truth.
The truth about why we were in Libya.
The truth about what we were doing in Libya.
The truth about the escalating violence in Libya before we were attacked and these four men lost their lives.
The truth about requests for additional security.
The truth about requests for more personnel.
The truth about requests for more equipment.
The truth about where and why our military was positioned as it was on the anniversary of 9-11.
The truth about what was happening and being discussed in Washington while our people were under attack.
The truth about what led to the attacks.
The truth about what our government told the American people after the attacks.
Why were there so many requests for more security personnel and equipment, and why were those requests denied in Washington?
Why did the State Department compound in Benghazi not even come close to meeting proper security specifications?
What policies were we pursuing in Libya that required a physical presence in spite of the escalating violence?
Who in Washington was aware of the escalating violence in Libya?
What special precautions, if any, were taken on the anniversary of 9-11?
What happened in Washington after the first attack and what was the response to that attack?
What did the military do or not do?
What did our leaders in Washington do or not do and when?
Why was the American public given such divergent accounts of what caused these attacks?
And why is it so hard to get information from the very government these four men were representing and serving and sacrificing for?
Even after an Accountability Review Board and half a dozen congressional investigations, these and other questions still lingered. These questions lingered because those previous investigations were not thorough. These questions lingered because those previous investigations were narrow in scope and either incapable or unwilling to access the facts and evidence necessary to answer all relevant questions.
So the House of Representatives, including some Democrats, asked this Committee to write the final, definitive accounting of what happened in Benghazi.
This committee is the first committee to review more than fifty thousand pages of documents because we insisted they be produced.
This committee is the first committee to demand access to more eyewitnesses, because serious investigations talk to as many eyewitnesses as possible.
This committee is the first committee to thoroughly and individually interview scores of other witnesses, many of them for the first time.
This committee is the first committee to review thousands of pages of documents from top State Department personnel.
This committee is the first committee to demand access to relevant documents from the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Defense, the State Department, and even the White House.
This committee is the first committee to demand access to the emails to and from Ambassador Chris Stevens. How could an investigation possibly be considered credible without reviewing the emails of the person most knowledgeable about Libya?
This committee is the first committee, the only committee, to uncover the fact that Secretary Clinton exclusively used personal email on her own personal server for official business and kept the public record – including emails about Benghazi and Libya – in her own custody and control for almost two years after she left office. And it was Secretary Clinton’s lawyers who determined what would be returned and what would not be returned.
You will hear a lot about the Accountability Review Board today. Secretary Clinton mentioned the ARB more than 70 times in her previous testimony before Congress. But when you hear about the ARB you should also know State Department leadership handpicked members of the ARB, the ARB never interviewed Secretary Clinton, the ARB never reviewed her emails and Secretary Clinton’s top advisor was allowed to review and suggest changes to the ARB report before the public ever saw it. There is no transcript of ARB interviews, so it is impossible to know whether all relevant questions were asked and answered. And because there is no transcript it is impossible to cite ARB interviews with any particularity at all. That is not independent. That is not accountability. That is not a serious investigation.
You will hear there were previous congressional investigations into Benghazi. That is true. It should make you wonder why those previous investigations failed to interview so many witnesses and failed to access so many documents. If those previous congressional investigations really were serious and thorough, how did they miss Ambassador Stevens’ emails? If those investigations were serious and thorough, how did they miss Secretary Clinton’s emails? If those previous congressional investigations were serious and thorough, why did they fail to interview dozens of key State Department witnesses including agents on the ground, who experienced the terrorist attacks firsthand?
Just last month, three years after Benghazi, top aides finally returned documents to the State Department. A month ago, this Committee received 1500 new pages of Secretary Clinton’s emails related to Libya and Benghazi. 3 years after the attacks. A little over two weeks ago, this Committee received roughly 1400 pages of Ambassador Stevens’ emails. 3 years after the attacks.
It is impossible to conduct a serious, fact-centric investigation without access to the documents from the former Secretary of State, the Ambassador who knew more about Libya than anyone else, and testimony from witnesses who survived the attacks.
Madame Secretary, I understand some people – frankly in both parties -have suggested this investigation is about you. Let me assure you it is not. And let me assure you why it is not. This work is about something much more important than any single person. It is about four U.S. government workers, including our Ambassador, murdered by terrorists on foreign soil. It is about what happened before, during, and after the attacks that killed these four men. It is about what this country owes those who risk their lives to serve it. It is about the fundamental obligation of our government to tell the truth – always – to the American people. Not a single member of this Committee signed up for an investigation into you or your email system. We signed up because we wanted to honor the service and sacrifice of 4 people sent to a foreign land to represent us – who were killed – and do everything we can to prevent it from happening to others.
Our Committee has interviewed half a hundred witnesses, not a single one of them has been named Clinton until today. You were the Secretary of State for this country when our facility was attacked. So, of course this Committee is going to talk to you. You are an important witness, but you are just one important witness, among half a hundred important witnesses.
I understand you wanted to come sooner than today so let me be clear why that did not happen. You had an unusual email arrangement with yourself, which meant the State Department could not produce your emails to us.
You made exclusive use of personal email and a personal server. When you left the State Department you kept those public records to yourself for almost two years. You and your attorneys decided what to return and what to delete. Those decisions were your decisions, not ours. It was only in March of this year we learned of this email arrangement. Since we learned of your email arrangement we have interviewed dozens of witnesses, only one of whom was about your email arrangement, and that was a very short interview because he invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
Making sure the public record is complete is what serious investigations do. So, it was important to gain access to Ambassador Stevens’ emails, the emails of other Sr. leaders and witnesses, and it was important to gain access to your emails. Your emails are no more or less important than anyone else’s. It just took longer to get them and garnered more attention in the process.
I want you to take note during this hearing how many times congressional Democrats call on this administration to make long awaited documents available. They won’t. Take note of how many witnesses congressional Democrats ask us to schedule for interview. They won’t. We would be much closer to finishing this investigation and writing a final report if our Democrat colleagues decided to help us pursue the facts. If the Democrats on this committee had their way, dozens of witnesses never would have been interviewed, tens of thousands of documents never would have been reviewed, your public record would still be private, and we would never have accessed the emails of our Ambassador. All of that may be smart politics, but it is not the way to run a serious investigation.
There are certain characteristics that make our country unique in the annals of history. We are the greatest experiment in self-governance the world has ever known. And part of that self-governance includes self-scrutiny – even of the highest officials. Our country is strong enough to handle the truth. And our fellow citizens expect us to pursue the truth, wherever the facts take us.
So this committee is going to do what we pledged to do, and what should have been done long ago, which is interview the witnesses, examine the relevant evidence, and access the documents. We are going to pursue the truth in a manner worthy of the memory of the four men who lost their lives and worthy of the respect of our fellow citizens.
We are going to write that final, definitive accounting of what happened in Benghazi. We would like to do it with your help, but we are going to do it nonetheless. Because understanding what happened in Benghazi goes to the heart of who we are as a country and the promises we make to those we send into harm’s way. They deserve the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The people we work for deserve the truth. The family and friends of those killed representing this country deserve the truth. There is no statute of limitations on that truth.