Benghazi committee interviews mysterious drone operator

Story highlights

  • Gowdy has accused the Pentagon of dragging its feet and being uncooperative
  • The news release is the latest shot fired in a war between the Democrats and Republicans on the committee

Washington (CNN)House Benghazi committee chairman Trey Gowdy on Thursday announced the panel interviewed the mysterious "John from Iowa" drone operator it had been seeking -- escalating the feud with committee Democrats and the Pentagon over Defense Department cooperation.

In a statement, Gowdy said the committee had located the drone operator and slammed Democrats and the DoD for not working to find him sooner.
    The news release is the latest shot fired in a war between the Democrats and Republicans on the committee after Democrats released a letter from the Pentagon complaining about requests for witnesses from the panel's Republicans and another letter from the committee's former chief Republican investigator that concluded "nothing could have affected what occurred in Benghazi."
    In 2013, a man who only identified himself as "John from Iowa" called into Sean Hannity's radio show and said he witnessed the video footage of the events in Benghazi as the unfolded, according to a transcript of the call from The Blaze.
    He said the U.S. was not able to be armed that night and said no one in Congress had contacted him. Republicans say he's an example of the government not being forthcoming about what happened. Democrats say there is no indication the man has any meaningful information to contribute beyond a video the committee already has.
    Gowdy has accused the Pentagon of dragging its feet and being uncooperative with interview requests.
    The statement revealed that the DoD delivered the committee a list of names of drone operators from the night of the attacks on May 20, saying the names came three months after they were requested. The list included "John from Iowa," though the Pentagon said it didn't know if he was on the list.
    "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," the statement said.
    It also claimed that the man's testimony revealed the Air Force knew who he was since 2013, despite the Pentagon saying it couldn't find him.
    "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 statement said.
    In the letter in April, Assistant Secretary for Defense Stephen Hedger wrote that the DoD "has expended significant resources to locate anyone who might match the description of this person, to no avail."
    He added: "We continue to believe interviewing these individuals is unnecessary since we have given the Committee access to the relevant RPA video from that night and it remains unclear what additional information could be gained from these interviews, especially the pilots."
    Committee Democrats released the letter in April with a statement from ranking member Elijah Cummings, slamming the panel's GOP members for running a "sham."
    "Ever since their disastrous 11-hour marathon hearing with Secretary Clinton backfired last fall, Republicans have been trying to redeem themselves by demanding more and more duplicative and unnecessary interviews and dragging out their sham of an investigation closer to the election," Cummings said.
    Paul Bell, a spokesman for the Democrats on the Benghazi committee, said Gowdy's announcement on Thursday "completely ignores the fact that 'John from Iowa' provided virtually no substantive information we didn't already have. 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 Pentagon said Thursday that it has provided the committee with all the names the committee has asked for.
    "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," Laura Seal, a Defense Department spokeswoman, said in a statement. "Nonetheless, we have always -- and will continue to -- comply with every request from the committee."
    The committee was established in May 2014 and has now interviewed 105 witnesses, according to Gowdy's office. Gowdy has said he hopes to wrap up interviews and release a final report on the attacks later this summer.