WASHINGTON—An all-star panel of retired military officers, intelligence agents, and national security experts officially launched the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi with an all-day conference Monday in Washington.
The event, organized by Accuracy in Media, took place at the Heritage Foundation and included panel discussions, public questions, and a speech from Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. The 13-member commission finished with a closed door session to discuss its sole purpose: to find the truth about the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Speakers charged members of both political parties with incompetence and coverup in the year since the attack.
“At the bottom of this has got to be an impeachment issue,” former Adm. James “Ace” Lyons—who served as commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet—said to a standing ovation. “Otherwise, there’s no justification for this coverup.”
Charles Woods, whose son Tyrone Woods died defending others in the firefight, received two standing ovations when he addressed the commission and members of the public in attendance.
“If the president’s child were in Benghazi, would the rescue attempt have been more aggressive?” Woods asked. He called on anyone with knowledge of what happened in Benghazi to come forward and “come clean.”
Wolf delivered a spirited case for his bill to create a special House Select Committee on Benghazi with full subpoena power. The measure currently has 176 cosponsors, but so far House Speaker John Boehner has refused to consider it, saying he wants the investigation to continue through regular order.
The problem, Wolf said, is that the five House committees looking into Benghazi-related issues only have subpoena powers “in their lane,” which keeps investigative efforts disjointed. He said his bill would grant a Select Committee the power to subpoena all relevant witnesses and have the necessary clearance to get full answers.
Wolf, who does not want to serve on the special panel, also said a Select Committee would allow for more than the five-minute questioning provided in routine committee hearings. He said lawmakers such as Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., a former federal prosecutor, should have an hour to interview key witnesses such as then-CIA director David Petreaus, and then-White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan.
Several commission members called for more information about the role Petreaus and Brennan played in the CIA mission in Benghazi, in addition to the whereabouts and influence of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, President Barack Obama, and senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett on the night of the attack.
“Our government is leading us down a path of corruption, lies, and deceit,” said retired Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, a member of the commission. “I just returned from a trip to the Middle East and the lack of respect for the U.S. government is embarrassing.”
In response to the slow investigation, Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, in July filed a discharge petition for Wolf’s bill, which with 218 supporters would force the House to vote on it. Wolf himself does not support the discharge petition, because he said many members have committed never to sign one. But he said if Congress fails to form a select committee, it will be “complicit in the coverup.”
“I’m going to keep pushing it,” Wolf said. “I’m not going to be worn down.”
On Thursday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will resume its Benghazi investigation with the first hearing since May—when three whistleblowers provided lawmakers with bombshell testimony. The hearing will feature, among other witnesses, Ambassador Thomas Pickering and retired Gen. Michael Mullen, the co-chairmen of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board investigation on Benghazi.
This week, Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the Oversight committee, released a report citing numerous deficiencies in the ARB findings: “The ARB was not fully independent. The panel did not exhaustively examine failures and it has led to an unacceptable lack of accountability.”