Meet Right-Wing Media's New Benghazi Hoax Champion: Select Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy

››› ››› THOMAS BISHOP & OLIVIA MARSHALL

As media outlets focus on Republicans' select committee to investigate Benghazi, attention has centered on chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC). Throughout the right-wing campaign to scandalize the tragedy in Benghazi, Gowdy has used the media to push dishonest claims about the administration's response to the attack. 

Myth: Assets Could Have Been Deployed To Save Americans In Benghazi

Myth: Obama Administration Pushed A Lie That Attacks Were Caused By An Internet Video

Myth: No One Knows Where Obama Was During Benghazi

Myth: Accountability Review Board Convened To Insulate Clinton

Rep. Trey Gowdy Tapped To Lead Select Committee To Investigate Handling Of Benghazi Attack

Washington Post:  Rep. Trey Gowdy Named Head Of New Benghazi Select Committee. On May 5, the Washington Post reported that Speaker of the House John Boehner tapped Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) to lead a new committee specially formed to investigate the administration's handling of the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi and its aftermath:  

As widely expected, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) on Monday announced that Rep. Trey Gowdy will lead a newly-formed select committee to investigate the State Department's handling of the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya.

"Trey Gowdy is as dogged, focused, and serious-minded as they come.  His background as a federal prosecutor and his zeal for the truth make him the ideal person to lead this panel," Boehner said in a statement on Monday afternoon.

"I know he shares my commitment to get to the bottom of this tragedy and will not tolerate any stonewalling from the Obama administration.  I plan to ensure he and his committee have the strongest authority possible to root out all the facts.  This is a big job, but Rep. Gowdy has the confidence of this conference, and I know his professionalism and grit will earn him the respect of the American people." [The Washington Post5/5/14]

Gowdy Has A History Of Using Fox News To Push Debunked Benghazi Myths

Myth: Assets Could Have Been Deployed In Time To Save Benghazi Victims

Gowdy: The Claim That Assets Could Not Be Deployed In Time "Defies Logic." On the May 7, 2013 edition of On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, Gowdy rejected the State Department Accountability Review Board's (ARB) determination that military assets could not have been deployed to Benghazi in time to save the victims:

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN: Mark Thompson is also another person who will be testifying. Who is he? And what are you looking for from him?

GOWDY: Well, what we want to know from Mr. Thompson is whether or not there were assets that could have been deployed during the siege. Keep in mind the initial attack, and then there was an interim and there was another attack, and there was a third attack. Could assets have been deployed during the siege that would have saved Ty Woods and Glen Dougherty.

Keep in mind, the administration says we couldn't have got there in time which defies logic because they had no idea how long the attack was going to last. But Mr. Thompson will shed light on the middle part and whether or not our fell le Americans were crying for help and we could have helped them and for whatever reason chose not to. [Fox News, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, 5/7/13, accessed via Nexis]

Fact: Military Experts Agree That Assets Could Not Have Responded In Time

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta: Military Did Not Intervene In Benghazi Because Attack Was "Over Before We Had The Opportunity To Really Know What Was Happening." In an October 25 article, CBS News and the Associated Press reported that Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters that the U.S. military "was prepared to respond" to the Benghazi attack "but did not do so because it lacked what he called 'real-time information." The article quoted Panetta as saying, "You don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on ... (We) felt we could not put forces at risk in that situation." Panetta also told reporters, "It was really over before we had the opportunity to really know what was happening." [CBS/Associated Press, 10/25/12]

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates Criticized "Cartoonish Impression Of Military Capabilities And Military Forces" In Benghazi Coverage. During a May 12, 2013 interview on CBS' Face the Nation, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explained:

So, yes, ma'am, you will hear a lot about Ambassador Rice being the last person on the planet who thought a video had something to do with this attack. [Fox News, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, 5/7/13, accessed via Nexis]

Deputy Chief Of Mission In Benghazi: Additional Reinforcements Would Not Have Been Able To Get To Benghazi Before The Second Attack Was Concluded. In an interview, Former Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya Gregory Hicks said that a flight that special forces were scheduled to take, but did not, would have taken off after 6:00 a.m., local time -- approximately 45 minutes after the attack at the CIA annex that killed two people. [Media Matters, 5/7/13]

Myth: Obama Administration Pushed A Lie That Attacks Were Caused By An Internet Video

Gowdy: Administration Pushed "False Narrative" That Attack Was Caused By Video. During his May 7, 2013 On the Record interview, Gowdy claimed that the Obama administration knew the Benghazi attacks were not the result of an internet video but still pushed a "false narrative" that they were (emphasis added):

VAN SUSTEREN: You know the one thing that still isn't clear in my mind, maybe it is in yours and everybody else's, why in the world Ambassador Susan Rice went out with the statement and videotapes and the president continued to carry that song on beyond her statements on the five Sunday shows. In tomorrow's hearings do you expect to develop questions or whether there be a witness to develop at least why we heard that video thing, because it never made much sense to me?

GOWDY: Yes, ma'am. I can tell you that I am partly responsible for that line of questioning, and I have been working on it for two weeks now. You are going to know that she was demonstrably false. You are going to know that she was the only person that held on to that narrative even after everyone else win away from it. And importantly, Greta, what you are going to hear is that this cover-up, her choosing to rely on those false talking points about the video, impeded and obstructed our ability to get at what happened in Benghazi. The bureau was denied access to the crime scene as a direct result of her adherence to this false narrative that it was a video.

So, yes, ma'am, you will hear a lot about Ambassador Rice being the last person on the planet who thought a video had something to do with this attack. [Fox News, On the Record, 5/7/13, accessed via Nexis]

Gowdy: President Obama "Perpetuate[d] This Mythology" That Attacks Were Result of Video. On April 3, Gowdy appeared on Fox's The Kelly File to claim the Obama administration knowingly lied about the Benghazi attacks being caused by an internet video:

And what I find interesting about Mike Morell's testimony is in the State Department e-mail where they call it Islamic extremism. That is the cause that they cited of the attack. Nothing about a video.

No one on the ground in Benghazi mentioned a video. So for the president to perpetuate this mythology on the eve of an election and frankly Susan Rice continues to refuse to apologize for misleading our fellow citizens. [Fox News, The Kelly File, 4/3/14, accessed via Nexis]

Fact: Best Available Intelligence At The Time Linked Video To Attacks

Senate Select Committee On Intelligence: Intel Reports Linked Inflammatory Video To Benghazi Attack. A Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found that "intelligence suggests" that the Benghazi attacks were "opportunistic," rather than a "coordinated plot" and may have been linked to the violent protests that were erupting around the region in response to an inflammatory anti-Muslim video:

It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attacks or whether extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. Some intelligence suggests the attacks were likely put together in short order, following that day's violent protests in Cairo against an inflammatory video, suggesting that these and other terrorist groups could conduct similar attacks with little advance warning. [Review Of The Terrorist Attacks On U.S. Facilities In Benghazi, Libya, September 11-12, 2012, U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 1/15/14]

Former CIA Acting Director Believed At The Time Video Might Have Motivated Attack. Former CIA acting director Mike Morrell has testified that the CIA chief of station in Libya believed at the time that the anti-Muslim video might have motivated the attackers. [The Daily Beast, 4/2/14]

Slate's Dickerson: Emails Show "White House Believed The Story They Were Pushing." Slate chief political correspondent John Dickerson wrote that while the newly released documents "clearly show that the White House pushed the video story," they also show "proof that the White House believed the story they were pushing."  As he explained, the White House assessment tallied with the CIA's best assessment at the time:

It may now be laughable for anyone to suggest that the Libyan attack was spontaneous, but that's a question for the CIA, which made spontaneity its first and most durable claim that weekend. An intelligence failure is a different thing than a lie, and it should lead to a different set of questions about the underlying policy and skills of administration officials to accurately understand the world. You could also ask whether it's possible to make good policy when engaged in one-foot-in and one-foot-out operations like the U.S. attack on Libya. But those are policy questions, not cover-up questions. [Slate, 4/30/14]

Myth: No One Knows Where Obama Was During Benghazi Attack 

Gowdy: "I ... Cannot Tell You" What Obama Was Doing During Attack. On the May 8, 2013 edition of Fox's Hannity, Gowdy told host Sean Hannity he did not know what the President was doing during the attacks in Benghazi (emphasis added):

HANNITY: Congressman Gowdy, where was the President? We know he was briefed by Leon Panetta. Is there any indication the president ever inquired as to an update when our embassy was under attack and that our ambassador was in trouble? Was there ever any communication that's been confirmed or that he just went to bed and got up and went fundraising the next day?

GOWDY: There was nothing brought out today by our colleagues on the other side of the aisle that would indicate what the president was doing while this seven-hour long siege took place. So, I want to be fair to him, but the simple fact is I, even after eight months, cannot tell you what the commander-in-chief was doing when our people under our flag were being murdered and under assault on a foreign land. It is sad that a member of Congress after eight months can't answer your question. [Fox News, Hannity, 5/8/13, accessed via Nexis]

Fact: Obama Was In The Oval Office During The Attacks

Obama Was In The Oval Office During Attacks. A photo that has been available since October 11, 2012 on the White House Flickr page shows President Obama in the Oval Office during the September 2012 attacks:

 [Media Matters9/11/13

Huffington Post: Panetta And Dempsey "Were Meeting With Obama When They First Learned Of The Assault." The Huffington Post reported that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey were meeting with President Obama when they learned of the attack:

Several committee Republicans pressed Panetta and Dempsey about their discussions with President Barack Obama on that fateful day and his level of involvement, suggesting that after the initial conversation the commander in chief was disengaged as Americans died.

Panetta said he and Dempsey were meeting with Obama when they first learned of the Libya assault. He said the president told them to deploy forces as quickly as possible. [The Huffington Post, 2/7/13]

Dempsey: Obama's Staff "Was Engaged With The National Military Command Center Pretty Constantly" Throughout The Attack. Dempsey testified during a February 7 congressional hearing that the president's staff was engaged with the military command center constantly during the attack, "which is the way it would normally work":  

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R-NH): But just to be clear, that night he didn't ask you what assets we had available and how quickly they could respond and how quickly we could help those people there -

PANETTA: No. I think the biggest problem that night, Senator, is that nobody knew really what was going on there.

AYOTTE: And there was no follow up during the night, at least from the White House directly?

PANETTA: No. No, there wasn't.

DEMPSEY: I would, if I could just, to correct one thing. I wouldn't say there was no follow-up from the White House. There was no follow-up, to my knowledge, with the president.  But his staff was engaged with the national military command center pretty constantly through the period, which is the way it would normally work.

AYOTTE: But no direct communication from him?

DEMPSEY: Not on my part, no. [C-SPAN, 2/7/13, via Media Matters] 

Myth: Gowdy Claimed "Sole Function" Of Accountability Review Board Was To Insulate Clinton From Blame Over Benghazi

Gowdy: "The Sole Function Of The Accountability Review Board Was To Insulate Hillary Clinton." On the April 30, 2013 edition of On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, Gowdy claimed that the State Department's internal audit, conducted by the  Accountability Review Board (ARB), was designed to protect Hillary Clinton rather than get answers (emphasis added):

GOWDY: I think it's a growing frustration. You want to let government do its job. When people say, we're investigating it, we're going to get to the bottom of it, we're going to get you answers, you want to believe them. But after seven months, it becomes patently obvious that the sole function of the accountability review board was to insulate Hillary Clinton.

So at some point, again, speaking generically, I think you -- just in the quietness of your own soul, you realize government is not getting us answers on Benghazi. And I have to show the courage, the moral courage, if you will, to come forward even if there are going to be reprisals and consequences against me.

And more power to them for doing so. There are folks whose careers are in jeopardy. There are folks who are understandably fearful of retribution. And we ought to be encouraging and incenting them to come forward. We ought to be providing counsel and access to classified information and not threats.

And I think what we're going to find out next week is that this effort to delay and obfuscate and hide has been going on since shortly after Benghazi. [Fox News, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, 4/30/13, accessed via Nexis]

FACT: ARB Review Found To Be "Without Bias" And "A Model" For Future Audits

IG Report Praised Clinton's Implementation Of ARB Recommendations. A Department of State Inspector General (IG) review of the ARB process found that "The Accountability Review Board process operates as intended--independently and without bias." The report praised the personal involvement of Secretaries Hillary Clinton and John Kerry as "a model for how the Department should handle future ARB recommendations":

The Department's handling of the Benghazi ARB recommendations represents a significant departure from the previous norm in that Secretary Clinton took charge directly of oversight for the implementation process. She designated the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources as the coordinator for implementation with strict guidelines for a reporting schedule. Initially, the Deputy Secretary held weekly meetings with under secretaries and assistant secretaries to track implementation. Implementation continues, albeit on a less regular schedule now that many of the recommendations have been addressed.

This high-level oversight of the Benghazi ARB implementation process has been sustained through the transition from Secretary Clinton to Secretary Kerry. This level of attention from both secretaries and their senior staffs is a reflection of their personal concern in this matter and the unique scope of the Benghazi ARB recommendations. Approximately 90 percent of the recommendations (26 of 29) in the Benghazi report focused on systemic management reforms.

[...]

High-level leadership has been critical in driving and sustaining implementation of the Benghazi ARB recommendations, and this approach establishes a model for how the Department should handle future ARB recommendations. [United States Department Of State Office Of Inspector General, September 2013]

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