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February 20. 2014 9:23PM

Utah congressman, in NH, addresses questions on Benghazi terror attack

MANCHESTER — Congressman Jason E. Chaffetz, R-Utah, said a congressional committee investigating the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi attack is still making progress and that more than a dozen depositions have been taken that the public has never heard about.

Chaffetz, a member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, was the guest speaker Thursday at a breakfast meeting of Citizens for a Strong New Hampshire, a non-profit, non-partisan group that has lobbied against Medicaid expansion and expanded background checks for gun purchases. The event was held at the Airport Diner.

In answer to a question, Chaffetz said he was opposed to the formation of a select committee to bring the five ongoing Benghazi investigations under one umbrella.

He acknowledged Fox political commentator Bill O’Reilly gave him a hard time recently for not subpoenaing then-defense secretary Leon Panetta to appear before the committee. Chaffetz, however, said that is not going to happen until investigators have talked with everyone who was on the site that night. “You have to build the case from the bottom up,” he explained.

The Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and another diplomat. Two other Americans were killed hours later in a second assault at a CIA annex about a mile away.

Chaffetz touched on a number of other topics, including the ATF Fast and Furious operation in which thousands of weapons, mainly AK47s, were bought in straw purchases and ended up in the hands of criminals in Mexico where more than 100 people were murdered. Between 2006 and 2011, ATF agents in Tucson and Phoenix, Ariz. offices purposely let firearm dealers sell the weapons to illegal straw buyers, hoping to track the guns to Mexican drug cartel leaders and arrest them.

The operation was blown when one of the guns was used to kill U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010. Terry, Chaffetz said, was armed with a bean bag gun.

Initially, ATF sent a letter to Congress denying the operation had taken place, Chaffetz said.

“It was my first bold-face lie with this administration,” he said. Congress held Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt and President Barack Obama invoked executive privilege preventing the release of requested documents. The President’s action is being challenged in court.

Chaffetz said the committee also is investigating what happened on Aug. 6, 2011, when a military helicopter, code name Extortion 17, was shot down while transporting a quick reaction force — including 15 members of SEAL Team Six, the unit known for killing Osama Bin Laden — in Wardak province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan. It was the single most deadly day for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. All 38 people on board died.

In answer to another question, Chaffetz said he is not in favor of Medicaid expansion — Utah has not voted in favor of it — saying it is a false expectations that the federal government will foot the entire bill for three years.

Chaffetz told the 15 people attending the event that when he ran for Congress in 2008, he had no name recognition and no money.

“If you truly want to go out and win, then talk about principles and values important to Republicans — fiscal discipline, limited government, accountability and a strong national defense. “It’s one person at a time,” he said.

His was a two-year stealth campaign that relied on Facebook and building up a huge group of people galvanized on core issues, he said. Chaffetz defeated six-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Chris Cannon by 20 points for the Republican nomination and then went on to victory in Utah’s 3rd Congressional — and heavily Republican — District. That evoked a few “wows” from the audience.

Chaffetz wasn’t exactly a newbie to politics. His half-brother, John Dukakis, is the son of former Massachusetts Gov. and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. Kitty Dukakis, he explained, was his father’s first wife. Chaffetz originally was a Democrat who served as a Utah co-chairman for Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential campaign.

Former U.S. Congressman Frank Guinta, R-Manchester, who Chaffetz said was needed back in Washington, sat behind the congressman as he spoke. Guinta was in good spirits, noting that a recent poll had him up six points over Democratic incumbent Carol Shea-Porter.

“I am a huge fan of Frank’s,” said Chaffetz, who first met him on the campaign trail and then in Congress. “I hope the good people of New Hampshire send him back to Congress the first chance they get.”

pgrossmith@unionleader.com


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