After Curious DOD Delays, Benghazi Committee Interviews ‘John from Iowa’

June 9, 2016

Press Release
Washington, D.C. — Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy (SC-04) released the following statement regarding the committee’s interviews today with two drone sensor operators from the time of the attacks, including “John from Iowa”:

“Thorough, fact-centered investigations corroborate information with individuals who actually have specific knowledge and expertise. 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.”

Contrary to what a Pentagon political appointee claimed in a partisan attack letter leaked and trumpeted by Committee Democrats, the committee requested interviews with drone personnel from the night of the attacks long before it requested an interview with “John from Iowa,” an individual who called into a talk radio show in May 2013, claimed to be a drone sensor operator, and made allegations about the night of the Benghazi attacks. Even then, the latter request was only made after the Department of Defense (DOD) was unable to comply with the committee’s request for the names of all relevant personnel.

Talking to “John from Iowa” in May 2013, the radio host said, “I’m just a little surprised that you’re telling me all of this and that nobody in Congress has contacted you. I would think that you’d be one of the main people they’d want to talk to.” The caller replied, “Yeah, I would think so too. There would be only about six of us from the base out of which that I operate at that would’ve been involved on that specific mission that night, and so it should be really easy to track us down.”
In his April 28, 2016, letter to Chairman Gowdy, the Pentagon political appointee said interviewing this individual was “unnecessary” – despite the firsthand information he had – and claimed DOD “expended significant resources to locate anyone who might match the description of this person, to no avail.”

In the following weeks, despite the fact DOD was simply asked to find a few of its own employees, Committee Democrats supported the Pentagon political appointee’s claim many times, arguing Republicans were “forcing Pentagon officials to waste their time,” “putting a strain on the Pentagon,” and “diverting … resources from the national defense.” Democrats also cited “the enormous costs to the Pentagon” as they orchestrated a self-defeating legislative gimmick that would have forced DOD to spend time and money figuring out the exact amount of time and money it had spent responding to Benghazi requests.

Finally, on May 20, three months after the committee’s request, DOD provided a complete list of names of drone personnel from the time of the attacks. While it is unclear if DOD knew at the time it had finally provided the name of “John from Iowa,” the committee did. As it turns out, John was exactly who he had claimed to be and still on active duty with the Air Force. Before DOD’s response, Republicans independently obtained information about his identity, as well as information indicating DOD should have been well aware of his identity all along.

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.

The following is a timeline of events:

February 26, 2016 – The Benghazi Committee requests interviews with relevant drone personnel from the time of the attacks.

March 24 – After DOD is unable to comply, the committee sends DOD a list of outstanding requests, and notes that an investigator trying to gather any publicly available information about relevant drone personnel came across a news report about “John from Iowa,” an individual who called into a talk radio show in May 2013 and claimed to be a drone sensor operator on the night of the attacks.

March 31 – After a meeting between DOD and the committee to discuss outstanding requests, DOD finally agrees to provide the names of pilots and operators of drones over Benghazi and Tripoli on September 11 and 12, 2012. DOD also says “If we successfully identify ‘John from Iowa,’ we will treat him as an interview request and work to schedule an interview.” DOD also confirms in writing that the committee requested drone pilots on February 26, before requesting “John from Iowa” on March 24.

April 28 – Pentagon political appointee Stephen Hedger writes a letter to Chairman Gowdy and cc’s Committee Democrats, who immediately leak it in coordination with a press release. The letter falsely claims the committee requested to interview “John from Iowa,” and “then expanded this initial request to include all RPA pilots and RPA sensor operators who operated in the region that night.” DOD claims to have “expended significant resources to locate anyone who might match the description of [‘John from Iowa’], to no avail.” The letter also states “interviewing these individuals is unnecessary.”

April 29 – Ranking Member Cummings (D) claims Republicans are “forcing Pentagon officials to waste their time,” and Rep. Adam Schiff (D) says, “I hope the Committee will now respect the needs and demands of our armed forces and desist from diverting any further resources from the national defense.”

May 6 – Chairman Gowdy writes a letter to the Secretary of Defense laying out the factual inaccuracies in his staff’s letter.

May 8 – Committee Democrats again highlight the letter, writing: The letter states that the Pentagon “expended significant resources” trying to locate an individual identified as “John from Iowa,” who called into Sean Hannity’s radio show and alleged he was a Remotely Piloted Aircraft camera operator and saw the video feed from the night of the attack. Gowdy wanted to interview him even though the Select Committee already had access to the relevant video from that night.

May 16 – Ranking Member Cummings and Rep. Adam Smith (D) respond to Gowdy’s letter to the Secretary of Defense,claiming the committee is “putting a strain on the Pentagon that is completely unwarranted, unreasonable, and unjustified.” They cite as an example “demands to search for an individual identified only by his first name and home state—‘John from Iowa’—who called into Sean Hannity’s radio program.”

May 18 – Committee Democrats orchestrate a legislative gimmick designed to help them make the case that the Pentagon is being forced to do an extreme amount of work to comply with committee requests. Rep. Schiff cites “the enormous costs to the Pentagon of the duplicative and wasteful demands” and says the committee has “distracted the Defense Department from its vital mission of protecting the country.” The press release says “Chairman Gowdy has continued to demand that the Defense Department spend time and resources searching for an individual identified only by his first name and home state—‘John from Iowa’—who called into Sean Hannity’s radio program.”

May 19 – Democrats again highlight their gimmick to make DOD “publicly report within 30 days the total amount of taxpayer funds it has been forced to spend in response to the numerous investigations into the Benghazi attacks.”

May 19 – Chairman Gowdy publicly pressures DOD to provide “all of the names [of drone personnel from the time of the attacks] so the relevant witnesses can be interviewed and the investigation completed.” At this point, the committee does not have any names from September 12, 2012.

Friday, May 20, around 3 PM ET – DOD finally provides a complete list of names, which includes “John from Iowa.” It is unclear whether DOD is aware a name they provided is “John from Iowa.”

June 9 – The committee interviews “John from Iowa.”

This week, the Select Committee on Benghazi interviewed three witnesses, including retired General Carter Ham, the former commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). The committee has interviewed 105 witnesses, including 81 who had never before been questioned by Congress.