WASHINGTON -- The House Select Committee on Benghazi interviewed two military drone operators on Thursday who were working the night of the deadly 2012 attacks in Libya, including an elusive man who called into Sean Hannity's radio show three years ago saying he had knowledge of the incident.
In May 2013, a man who identified himself as "John from Iowa" called the conservative radio host and said he saw what happened in Benghazi on the night of the attacks. He also complained that neither Congress nor the administration had interviewed him.
The Benghazi committee, led by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), asked the Defense Department to track down this man so it could interview him. But in April, Assistant Secretary of Defense Stephen Hedger complained about the committee's unrealistic, ever-expanding requests, saying the department had “expended significant resources to locate anyone who might match the description of this person, to no avail."
But according to the committee, on May 20, the Defense Department provided a full list of drone personnel working at the time of the attacks. One of those operators was apparently "John from Iowa," although the committee said Thursday it was unclear whether the agency realized he was on the list it provided.
In a press release Thursday, the committee accused the Pentagon of not being upfront about what it knew:
As it turns out, John was exactly who he had claimed to be and still on active duty with the Air Force. ...
During his testimony today, this drone sensor operator confirmed details the committee learned at the same time DOD was claiming it was “expend[ing] significant resources to locate” him -- the Air Force knew exactly who had called into the talk radio show in 2013. In other words, John’s testimony raises serious questions with respect to the representations made by a Pentagon political appointee. It now appears DOD had knowledge well in advance of who and where John was, but claimed he could not be located anyway. They claimed “significant resources” had been spent attempting to find him, but given the facts, it’s hard to imagine just how much incompetence would be required for that to be true.
Defense Department spokesman Laura Seal responded that the agency has complied with the committee's requests to the best of its abilities.
"As the Committee notes, we have provided them with all of the names they have asked for, and we are making those personnel available for interviews as appropriate," Seal told The Huffington Post. "We provided the committee with the first set of names of pilots and sensor operators April 12, and have provided additional names on a rolling basis as we identified the individuals. We provided our final, comprehensive set of names May 20."
"The Department continues to believe that the remotely piloted aircraft video footage and accompanying briefings that we have made available to the Committee provides the most efficient way for the Committee to gather all of the information it needs regarding the use of RPAs that night," she added. "Nonetheless, we have always -- and will continue to -- comply with every request from the Committee."
Paul Bell, spokesman for the Democrats on the committee, scoffed at the news of "John from Iowa" finally being interviewed.
"There is a gaping hole in the Republican press release -- it completely ignores the fact that 'John from Iowa' provided virtually no substantive information we didn't already have," Bell said. "To the contrary, he referred us back to the same videos the Pentagon made available to the Select Committee more than a year ago. The Republican press release complains that it took the Pentagon several months to track down 'John from Iowa,' but Republicans are the ones who waited more than a year and a half to even request the interview."
In late April, Hedger wrote a letter to the Benghazi Committee expressing frustration with the ongoing probe. He said the department had already provided the committee with 1,000 pages of documents, classified written answers to 20 questions, 10 classified briefings and transcribed interviews with at least seven individuals.
"The Department is working diligently to accommodate your staff’s multiple and changing requests; however, we are concerned by the continuous threats from your staff to subpoena witnesses because we are not able to move quickly enough to accommodate these new requests," Hedger wrote. "Subpoenaing our service members, when the Department is working diligently to accommodate your requests and when no service member has refused to appear voluntarily, is unfair to our uniformed men and women and an unproductive way forward."
There have already been seven other congressional investigations into the Benghazi attacks, and none of them have found any deliberate wrongdoing by the administration. Gowdy has said he wants to produce a final report "before summer."
“Thorough, fact-centered investigations corroborate information with individuals who actually have specific knowledge and expertise," Gowdy said Thursday. "That means talking to enlisted service members with firsthand information is just as important as talking to the generals and admirals who command them. I appreciate the important work of these airmen, their service to our country, and their willingness to talk to our committee."
Gowdy has also subpoenaed Hedger to testify in private, under oath, on June 15.
This piece was updated with comment from the Democratic spokesman for the committee and information on Hedger's subpoena.