WASHINGTON — In his first published comments on an explosive letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, the congressman pushing the hardest to get to the bottom of the Benghazi scandal, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., has come the closest yet to publicly criticizing the GOP leader’s handling of the matter.
Wolf, a 17-term congressman who entered office at the same time Ronald Reagan became president in 1980, has tended to abide by the Gipper’s “11th Commandment” of not criticizing fellow Republicans.
But he has words of praise for a letter that delivers a blistering rebuke to the top Republican in Congress.
Wolf has been leading the charge to create a special committee to investigate the terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11, 2012.
Despite his obvious passion to get to the truth and his deep compassion for the victims of the attack and their families, Wolf has steadfastly, and notably, avoided any public criticism of Boehner’s refusal to advance the investigation.
But, by telling WND that he appreciated a high-profile letter sent to Boehner this week endorsing Wolf’s call for a select committee to investigate Benghazi, the congressman virtually endorsed some particularly harsh words for the speaker.
“I think the case was made well in the letter,” Wolf told WND.
The letter, signed by 77 dignitaries, blasts Boehner’s refusal to convene a select committee on Benghazi.
The harsh criticism of the speaker in the letter includes these comments:
- Are you dodging a legitimate, thorough, coordinated investigation of Benghazi because it will damage your political position as speaker?
- You have an opportunity to show strong leadership and resolve a national disgrace perpetrated by specific public officials. You are failing.
- Your failure to get the truth and hold public officials accountable increases the possibility of other repeat attacks and additional failures to defend Americans abroad.
- Your inaction and failure to lead on the Benghazi investigation directly contributes to the repetition of lies.
- You should be embarrassed that members of Congress, and your own party, are forced to file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with Obama administration agencies to get basic information about the Benghazi issue.
- What a sad and pathetic statement about the operations of House standing committees looking into this tragedy that FOIA has become the last resort of even Republican members seeking the truth!
Those who signed the letter include the parents of two of the Americans killed in the attack (Ty Woods and Sean Smith), former congressman Lt. Col. Allen West, retired Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, retired Lt. Gen. William Boykin and Dan Bongino, author of WND Books’ bestseller “Life Inside the Bubble: Why a Top-Ranked Secret Service Agent Walked Away From it All.”
Wolf called those who signed a very distinguished group of people with a lot of experience.
The Virginia representative is not running for re-election, so he would have nothing to lose politically by publicly criticizing Boehner for not convening the select committee.
But, while he still won’t publicly criticize Boehner, Wolf implied the speaker knows exactly where he stands.
Wolf told WND, “I think the approach I am taking is the appropriate approach. We’re making the case. I think the case was made well in the letter. It was a very powerful letter, signed by a lot of people. I don’t think it’s my approach at this time to be criticizing or condemning or complaining. We’re making the case. I think it’s a legitimate case.”
WND asked Wolf if he has had any discussion with his party’s leadership behind the scenes about his call for select committee.
“I don’t talk about those conversations,” he said. “I think everyone knows how I feel. I’ve been very outspoken.”
Wolf stressed his belief that the issue of what went wrong in Benghazi is so important “that it’s not going to go away until we find out what actually happened.”
A key to understanding the congressman’s refusal to publicly clash with Boehner may be found in his apparent belief that things are moving in the right direction.
Wolf said he was hopeful that Congress would eventually investigate the incident properly, telling WND his sense was that, ultimately, lawmakers will have no other choice.
“I think transparency and accountability are the keys, and I think that’s what an investigation will have to have.”
The letter speculated that Boehner may have been briefed on intelligence and special operations activities in Libya before the Benghazi attack, and that he may be reluctant to investigate because he might possess “guilty knowledge” that would damage his political position, if it became known.
When WND asked Wolf if he thought that might be true, he leaped to assert, “I don’t know that’s accurate. I don’t know. I have no knowledge of that.”
So, WND asked, if it were true, would that really be enough to prevent Boehner from agreeing to a select committee?
Wolf said he didn’t want to speculate. It was much more important, he asserted, to get to the truth than to focus upon what particular members of Congress may have known.
Wolf noted a recent New York Times article “pretty much absolved the Obama administration” for the Benghazi debacle, and since that is the so-called paper-of-record, “Is that what the history books will say?”
Instead, Wolf maintained,”I think the witnesses, Hillary Clinton and others, should be called under oath” with no time limit on the length of questions.
The urgency rising in his voice, Wolf repeated his insistence that it was imperative to get public testimony from the survivors who were on the ground during the attack.
WND has previously spoken with Wolf at length about reports that the administration has been threatening those survivors to make sure they do not testify.
After a speech Wolf gave on the House floor in August on Benghazi, a visibly energized Wolf discussed with WND details of a CNN report that the CIA had dozens of people in Benghazi on the night of the attack and the agency had gone to “unprecedented” lengths to make sure what they were doing there remains a secret.
The report said CIA employees were afraid for themselves and their families, and subjected to “pure intimidation,” including a highly unusual number of lie-detector tests.
Wolf told WND he believed those survivors want to talk.
“I think a lot of them want the American people to know what happened. I think they also want to be recognized, because when you hear the stories of what they’ve done, it’s kind of a great American story,” he said, referring to the heroic efforts by those who survived, and the four Americans who died, in the terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
Wolf believes “more of them wanted to come forward earlier. I think now this polygraphing and all this activity has people frightened.”
What is administration afraid of?
The congressman, whose district includes CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., wondered why “these heroes” were being told not to talk.
He asked, what is the administration afraid of – and what is it protecting?
Wolf believes a public hearing by a select committee is the only way to crack a CIA stonewall.
“Now, a subpoena from Congress would supersede that. But if you’re 50, you have a couple of kids, a mortgage, you live in Fairfax County in a house, you have one kid in college and another one going soon, can you afford to lose your job? You can’t do it,” explained Wolf.
He said that’s why a public hearing is needed to uncover the truth, so surviving witnesses can feel safe.
“They need the protection of a public hearing and to be subpoenaed so they can come forward. That allows them to say what really happened.”
WND asked why a select committee would have a better chance of getting these witnesses.
“Because now it’s disjointed,” Wolf replied, adding, “You have five different committees. You need one committee with people from all of those committees, with one chairman, one ranking member and one staff director. You can’t do things otherwise.
“Somebody can come in and tell one committee this, and tell another committee that. There’s no way of knowing what they said to each other. So we need to bring it together, similar to what we did on Iran-Contra.”
Would that give Congress more power to crack a CIA coverup?
“Yes,” he said. “The hearings would have to be public. Most of the hearings have been private.”
Would it put more pressure on the CIA to comply simply because the hearings were public, WND asked.
“It would. But if you were a person now who wanted to come forward, where would you go? Would you go to the Intelligence Committee? Or would you go to the Judiciary Committee? The Government Affairs Committee? Armed Services Committee? Where would you go?”
Wolf said a select committee would provide “a central location where people feel comfortable.”
WND asked the congressman if he had any speculation on why the CIA would go to such extraordinary efforts to keep witnesses quiet.
“I have thoughts about it … but that’s the whole purpose of a hearing. And not only to find out that, but why didn’t they send an American plane in to pick up the wounded? Why didn’t they send an American plane in to rescue the others that were sitting there on the tarmac?”
On that night, a group of heavily armed terrorists attacked the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi for hours with military weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.
The attack came in two waves and lasted from 9:40 p.m. until after 6 a.m., when Libyan soldiers finally arrived to evacuate the surviving American personnel.
U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, computer specialist Sean Smith and CIA security contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed.
Woods, a former Navy SEAL, was with a small team at the CIA annex about a mile from the consulate, where Stevens and others came under attack.
Wolf said the CIA station chief twice told Woods to stand down when he asked permission to help Stevens’ group.
Woods team finally ignored orders and joined the battle at the consulate, evacuating survivors and the body of Sean Smith, but not finding the ambassador.
Wolf said they believed they could have saved Stevens had they gone at the outset of the attack.
Returning to the annex, the team called for military help but were reportedly denied, a charge the CIA disputes.
The fighting then continued for four more hours, with no U.S. help ever arriving.
Wolf believes that could have been enough time for help to arrive from air bases in Italy or Turkey.
“Why didn’t they send an F-16 to come over the consulate and join the attack, which would have frightened off a lot of the attackers?”
Woods was killed nearly seven hours after the initial attack, along with fellow former Navy SEAL Glen Doherty.
What were dozens of CIA agents doing in Benghazi, and why is the administration apparently so desperate to keep survivors tight-lipped?
Lawmakers have speculated on the possibility U.S. agencies operating in the Benghazi compound were secretly helping to transfer weapons from Libya, via Turkey, to the rebels in Syria.
That possibility was first reported by WND when Egyptian security officials said Stevens played a central role in arming and recruiting rebels to fight Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
There is another possibility.
WND’s Jerome Corsi has reported there is evidence the administration is covering for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton because she sent Stevens into a dangerous situation without adequate security.
Corsi reported Stevens “died in a terrorist attack, because Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ordered him there, according to an exclusive statement given to WND by the attorney representing Gregory Hicks, the former State Department deputy chief of mission and chargé d’affairs who was in Libya at the time of the attack.”
Wolf’s quest for the truth about Benghazi is summed-up in his House Resolution to create a select committee.
It is co-sponsored by more than two-thirds of Republicans in the House.
Wolf noted the CIA has said agency employees are always free to speak to Congress if they want.
However, Wolf observes, the reported polygraphs given to survivors clearly contradict these assertions.
He asked, how can the Congress know the survivors don’t want to speak with Congress if they can’t learn who they are and ask them?
He doubted Congress can just take the administration’s word for it.
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth