The independent Citizens' Commission on Benghazi, or CCB, has been doing its own investigation and working behind the scenes for the past year and a half to make sure Congress does the job the executive branch has failed to do: namely, to get to the truth of what happened and to hold people accountable.
A major step forward took place last May when Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, announced the creation of a House Select Committee to investigate after about 190 House Republicans, under the leadership of then-Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., co-sponsored legislation for just such action.
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The CCB's members include former military commanders and Special Forces operatives; former CIA and intelligence officers; well-known experts in international terrorism; and experts in media and government affairs.
In exclusive interviews conducted with 11 of the 17 members of the commission, it is clear that while the CCB is still enthusiastic to work with Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, and hopeful that Boehner is serious about the investigation, various members of the CCB, speaking on their own behalf and not as spokesmen for the commission, are expressing concerns, wanting to make sure the Gowdy investigation is not compromised by elements within the GOP.
It was a lack of trust in the congressional investigation of Benghazi that prompted the formation of the Citizens' Commission on Benghazi in 2013. The founding members of the CCB were U.S Army Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, U.S. Navy four-star Adm. James Lyons, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney (all retired) and Accuracy in Media Editor Roger Aronoff.
Vallely told WND that he believes Gowdy "has received much pressure not to get to the truth, and we are now coming to the conclusion that there is no longer any intention in Washington, by the leadership of both the Democratic and Republican Parties, to get to the truth."
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"An honest investigation into Benghazi would prove treasonous acts at the very top of the White House and the State Department, and a continuing cover-up in Congress that now involves the Republican leadership and especially House Speaker John Boehner," Vallely said.
Among the CCB's most significant findings, released last April in an interim report, was that "the U.S. facilitated the delivery of weapons and military support to Al Qaeda-linked rebels in Libya" and that "on the day of the attacks in Benghazi, whether or not there was an official order to stand down, the result was the same.'
"There were military assets, for example, at the U.S. base in Sigonella, in Sicily, Italy, that could have been brought to bear, and perhaps could have saved the lives of the two men killed at the CIA Annex, the scene of the second attack that night," the report said. "The failure to attempt to rescue these Americans amounts to a dereliction of duty."
The commission has found evidence that there was a stand-down order given to the security guards at the CIA annex after the attack began at the special mission compound, one mile away, where Ambassador Christopher Stevens and information officer Sean Smith were killed.
The purpose of the mission in Benghazi appears to have involved a scheme managed by Stevens, first to supply weapons to al-Qaida-related groups and others who sought to overthrow Moammar Gadhafi and later to Syrian rebels.
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Republican leaders are covering up the White House's offenses, some commission members believe, because the White House made them aware of the gun-running and they gave assent to it.
Gowdy proceeding 'at glacial speed'
Vallely explained that the Citizens' Commission on Benghazi was formed "after we saw all the stumbling and deception that was going on" with the initial round of Benghazi hearings held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee in January 2013.
The commission, he said, meets every couple of weeks, and "we've gone in and investigated on our own, conducting interviews and uncovering facts."
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The other founding members of the commission share Vallely's concern.
"Trey Gowdy's Select Committee is proceeding at glacial speed," said Lyons, former commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. "It is unclear where Gowdy is going, and the signs are not good."
Aronoff believes that Gowdy might yet conduct a thorough investigation into Benghazi that would produce the trut and was encouraged by closed-door meetings that were held last week between the Select Committee and both the State Department and the Justice Department. But he also expressed some concerns.
"At the time Gowdy was picked, all of us were ecstatic," Aronoff said. "Gowdy was the one guy that, if we were asked, the Citizens' Commission would have said was the right guy."
He said that after the first meeting of the House Select Committee, Gowdy was saying the right things, suggesting he would hold a public hearing within a month.
"Whether there was some sort of a deal cut at the beginning of Gowdy heading the select committee we don't know," he said.
"We've been publicly hesitant to criticize Gowdy, because we're still hopeful he's going to be the right guy," Aronoff emphasized. "We're trying now to pressure them from the sidelines, and we don't want to come out blasting Gowdy, saying that the 'fix is in.' We still feel the select committee is there, and we want to give Gowdy the benefit of the doubt to see what he does."
Aronoff explained he was disappointed that Gowdy chose to devote his first two public hearings to examining the State Department Accountability Review Board process.
"Those hearings were pretty bland, not really getting to the heart of the matter," Aronoff said.
Citizens' commission member Pete Hoekstra, who served for 18 years as a congressman from Michigan, and who was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee before retiring from Congress, told WND he retains confidence Gowdy will produce a good investigation.
"I'm not anywhere close to giving up on the work of Gowdy's committee," Hoekstra said. "The good thing is that Gowdy and his select committee have jurisdiction across all the different departments and agencies of government that are or might be involved in the Benghazi attack."
Hoekstra said he still believes Gowdy's committee "will be the first to give the entire Benghazi incident a complete and thorough look."
Next hearings classified, closed to public
Jamal Ware, communications director for the Republican majority on the House Select Committee investigation of Benghazi, explained to WND in an email the next hearing likely will be closed and classified.
He said it's possible that the subsequent hearing will be open to the public, but he has no details to release, because the decision-making is still in progress.
Retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Jones, another commission member, also expressed concerns about Gowdy's investigation.
"I think Gowdy is serious, and I think he is a real patriot, but I think he has been warned away from the final conclusion or he's been threatened," Jones told WND.
"I've been working very closely with the Citizens' Commission, and I think Gowdy, if he doesn't go any further than he has, has either been warned within the Republican Party or threatened externally."
Jones said he has concerns whether Boehner is enthusiastic about supporting Gowdy's investigation, despite the instrumental role the House speaker played in constituting the select committee and his public insistence that Gowdy will get to the truth of what happened in Benghazi.
Jones said he called his local congressman, Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., and said that if he was interested in the Benghazi issue, he had some information for him. Heck responded with a couple of handwritten notes indicating he was very interested, according to Jones.
Jones then set up a meeting with Aronoff, Lyons and a couple of other people at Heck's House office in Washington.
"But at the meeting, Heck became very arrogant and basically not interested, so he cut the meeting short and left," Jones said.
"That concerned me, because Heck is on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, and here was a chance for him to hear from Roger (Aronoff) and some information not many people knew," Jones said. "But he wasn't willing to listen; yet I have two notes here from Heck that said he was interested and to keep him informed regarding what was going on."
Heck's turnabout caused Jones to question how serious the Republicans in Congress were about an honest search for the truth.
"The truth is Boehner only agreed to appoint the Select Committee after a lot of pressure from a lot of people and to put Gowdy in to head it, which is something we all recommended," Jones said. "But I think Boehner has either given Gowdy the word that enough is enough, or it's gone above Boehner, and Gowdy's been threatened."
Asked directly, Jones agreed with Vallely that traitorous deeds at the highest level of government were committed regarding Benghazi and that the Republicans in Congress have joined the Democrats in a continuing cover-up.
"I'm concerned there is something going on between the establishment Republicans in Congress and the Obama administration of not wanting to get to the truth," Vallely said. "If you look at the first two public hearings that Gowdy held, they were primarily some very low-level people that weren't necessarily involved in what happened in Benghazi. But, really, those first two hearings have been very ineffective in getting to the truth of what really happened."
Vallely said he and his colleagues worked 10 months after their first press conference to get Boehner to appoint a select committee.
"Boehner really did not want a select committee. He delayed. He was pressured, and he didn't think it was necessary," Vallely said. "For some reason, we believe, Boehner understood from the Obama administration that they did not want to press it, because what we feel now is that Boehner and the Republican leadership in Congress really don't want to get to the truth."
'Protecting his wife'
Fueling the suspicions of various citizens' commission members was the severely criticized unanimous report on Benghazi issued in November by Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., as chairman of the Republican-led House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The report "found no evidence" to support allegations the Obama administration blocked attempts to send rescue operations to Benghazi during the assault or sought to mislead the public afterwards.
Citizens commission member John Shaw – a senior partner in the Cambridge Consulting Group, formerly with the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2005, where he served as deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security – explained why he agrees with others on the committee that Boehner and Republicans in Congress are stonewalling the Benghazi investigation.
On June 23, 2014, Micah Morrison, the lead investigative reporter at Washington-based Judicial Watch, wrote an article suggesting Rogers had been compromised in the intelligence committee's Benghazi investigation because of his wife's business interests.
"A seven-term Republican from Michigan, Mike Rogers climbed the political ladder to become chairman of the Intelligence Committee in January 2011," Morrison wrote. "Kristi Rogers, after years of government service in mid-level administrative positions, moved to the private sector, joining the British-based security contractor Aegis Defense Services to help open its U.S. subsidiary. The newsletter Intelligence Online noted that thanks to Ms. Rogers' efforts, 'Aegis won several major contracts with the U.S. administration.'"
Shaw pointed out that Aegis in the U.K. had a connection with the February 17 Martyrs Brigade, the Islamic militia given the contract in Libya to provide security at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli and the diplomatic compound in Benghazi.
"There's no question in my mind that Rogers compromised the intelligence committee report on Benghazi in order to protect his wife," Shaw said.
"Once the connections come out between Aegis and the February 17 Martyrs Brigade, the information will fry Rogers and his wife publicly in the process," he said. "I had followed Aegis both in the United States and in England for two years, because I thought the leadership of the group was a problem. The fact is that soon after it became clear there was a connection between Aegis and Benghazi, a notice came on the Aegis wire claiming Aegis in Washington had nothing to do with any security contract in Libya."
Shaw explained the connections.
"There was a three-way switch," he said. "First, Aegis in the U.K. gave the contract to provide the U.S. security services in Libya to another security company called Blue Mountain, based in Wales. Blue Mountain in turn subcontracted the State Department contract to provide security at the U.S. consulate in Libya to the bad guys, the February 17 Martyrs Brigade, the same group that ended up abandoning their posts and joining the bad guys who attacked the CIA compound at Benghazi where Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed."
Ansar al Sharia, the al-Qaida-linked militia group that led the Benghazi assault on the CIA compound, is believed to include former members of the February 17 Martyrs Brigade.
"Ms. Rogers' rise at Aegis was swift," Judicial Watch's Morrison wrote.
"A former press aide to Ambassador Paul Bremer in Iraq and an assistant commissioner for public affairs at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, she was named executive vice president when the U.S. branch opened in 2006," Morrison continued. "She was promoted to president in 2008 and added the position of CEO in 2009. In 2011, Ms. Rogers was named vice chairman of the company's board of directors. In December 2012, she left Aegis and joined the law firm Manatt as a managing director for federal government affairs."
Morrison wrote: "On March 28, Mr. Rogers announced he was stepping down from his safe Congressional seat and committee chairmanship to become a talk radio host. Two weeks earlier, on March 14, Ms. Rogers quietly left Manatt, after a tenure of only thirteen months. Her departure was not announced and her association with the firm has been scrubbed from its website."
Gang of 8 'compromised'
Shaw said he shares the concerns of others on the commission about "the slowness of the Gowdy investigation."
"Several of us have raised the question of whether the Republican 'Gang of Eight' in Congress somehow think that if the truth about Benghazi ever comes out, they will be found to be somehow liable, if it ever comes out that they knew in advance about Obama administration secrets over what really happened in Benghazi and did nothing to reveal this information to the public," he said.
The "Gang of Eight" is a reference to eight leaders in the House and Senate who are regularly briefed by the White House on intelligence matters: the speaker of the House and the House minority leader; the Senate majority and minority leaders; and the chairmen and ranking members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
In the recently completed 113th Congress, the following Republicans were in the "Gang of Eight": House Speaker Boehner; then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; Rogers, as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., as ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
"Why would Gowdy have only one public hearing a month?" Shaw asked. "Once he started, the select committee public hearings should have been relentless, day-after-day, the way the Watergate hearings were, so we would have a buildup."
Shaw said Gowdy "has all the information we assembled in the citizens' committee, and we have no sense what he is really about."
"I thought Gowdy, given his demeanor, was going to go full for the jugular investigating Benghazi, but it's clear he's been held back."
Members of the CCB (alphabetical):
- Roger Aronoff, editor, Accuracy in Media
- Capt. Larry Bailey, (SEAL) USN (Ret.)
- Lt. Col. Kenneth Benway, U.S. Army Special Forces (Ret.)
- Col. Dick Brauer Jr., USAF (Ret.)
- Steve Emerson, executive director, Investigative Project on Terrorism
- Lt. Col. Dennis B. Haney, USAF (Ret.)
- Pete Hoekstra, former congressman and senior fellow, Investigative Project on Terrorism
- Brig. Gen. Charles Jones, USAF (Ret.)
- Clare Lopez, former CIA officer
- Adm.l James Lyons, USN (Ret.)
- Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, USAF (Ret.)
- Col. Wayne Morris, USMC (Ret.)
- John A. Shaw, former official of Department of Defense
- Kevin Shipp, former CIA officer
- Wayne Simmons, former CIA officer
- Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, U.S. Army (Ret.)
- Former congressman and retired Army Lt. Col. Allen West