Exclusive–Rep. Jeff Duncan: Kerry 'Hostile' When Asked of Syria Link to Benghazi

At Wednesday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) pressed Secretary of State John Kerry on America's potential military intervention in Syria—especially what he considers its ties to 2012's Benghazi terrorist attack. 

Duncan opened his line of questioning by accusing President Barack Obama’s administration of having “a serious credibility issue,” referencing scandals like Benghazi, Operation Fast and Furious—in which Obama has asserted executive privilege over documents to keep them from Congress—the IRS scandal, the NSA scandal, and the scandal surrounding surveillance of journalists from Associated Press and Fox News reporter James Rosen.

“I’m upset because from now on, I can’t believe you,” Duncan said in opening his line of questioning of Kerry. "These issues call into question the accountability of this administration, its commitment to the personnel on the ground, and the judgment that it uses when making these determinations."

Duncan held up a photo of former Navy SEAL Tyrone Woods, who was murdered in Benghazi almost a year ago along with Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, and Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The representative posed a couple questions to Kerry about the ties between the Benghazi scandal and the situation in Syria. Duncan also pointed out Kerry’s traditional history of caution before heading into any armed conflict.

“The reason that I say Benghazi is germane to our discussion on Syria is this: Secretary Kerry, have there been any efforts on the part of the United States directly or indirectly to provide weapons to the Syrian rebels? That would also include facilitating the transfer of weapons from Libyan rebels to Syrian rebels,” he asked.

Over the course of the heated next few minutes, Kerry never answered the question. Instead, he challenged other points Duncan made. “Let me begin, Congressman, by challenging your proposition that I’ve never done anything except advocate caution, because I volunteered to fight for my country and that wasn’t a cautious thing to do when I did it,” Kerry said. “When I was in the United States Senate, I supported military action any number of occasions including Grenada, Panama, I can run down a list of them. I am not going to sit here and be told by you that I don’t have a sense of what the judgment is with respect to this. We’re talking about people being killed by gas and you want to go talk about Benghazi and Fast and Furious.”

The New York Times has reported that the Obama administration was running guns to Syria through Libya, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said in a recent interview with Breitbart News that such an operation would haunt then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a potential bid for president in 2016.

In an exclusive interview with Breitbart News on Wednesday afternoon after the hearing, Duncan said that Kerry was being “hostile.”

“He did not answer me,” Duncan said. “In fact, he deflected the question and then got a little hostile with me about the chemical weapons used. I never denied the fact that chemical weapons were used in Syria." 

"I was just trying to make the point that there is a connection between Benghazi and Syria," he continued, "and that a lot of Americans do believe there was an operation going on to round up the weapons from the Libyan rebels and transport them to Syria. He didn’t answer my question."

When his five minutes worth of questioning during the hearing—the standard amount each member is given for question-and-answer with witnesses—ended, Duncan said Kerry "kept riding on."

"I’m surprised Chairman Royce let him go on as long as he did—for about a minute over, which he didn’t allow that for anybody else—the screen split and I sat there and held Tyrone Woods’ picture up," Duncan said.

The South Carolina Republican told Breitbart News that he believes Kerry needs to answer his question before anyone in Congress does anything on Syria. "I’m not going to let up and I’m going to keep making that connection for the American people," he said. "There is a lot of distrust of this administration on Benghazi and nobody has been brought to justice. He [President Obama] keeps saying there is a ‘red line’ and if we don’t act the rest of the world is going to judge us that way. Well, the rest of the world is judging us based on our inaction in Benghazi.”

Duncan told Breitbart News that the Obama administration “needs to come clean” on the Benghazi scandal to be taken seriously on the world stage. “There’s a huge credibility issue here. Somebody needs to be held accountable,” he said. “I told him I’m very sympathetic about the children and others that were gassed in Syria, but we have four dead Americans here as well, two of which were Navy SEALs and one of which was an ambassador.”

He believes the House does not currently have the number of votes needed to pass a resolution authorizing military action in Syria. “Based on what I saw in that committee hearing today, if the House Foreign Affairs Committee is any indication of what’s in the full House, I don’t think the votes are there,” Duncan said. “But one thing I will say is I was disappointed that Speaker Boehner and Leader Cantor got out in front on this issue and supported this without talking with us, without talking with conference. I think they should have done that before they spoke publicly about it.”

When one of the other committee members asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel who America would be siding with, and who the “good guys” are in this scenario, Duncan said he thought Hagel “kind of struggled with that.”

“You got Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah on one side here," he asserted, "and you got al Qaeda and all the other bad factions on the other side of it. Who are we supporting here?”

Duncan said Homeland Security Committee chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), who questioned Kerry on this very topic on Wednesday, shared some information with him about the breakdown of the so-called Syrian “rebels.”

“There’s 100,000 fighters or so in the country is how it breaks up, and none of them are favorable to the United States,” he explained.

Duncan continued by saying that the Obama administration has not addressed the potential consequences of a simple “surgical” attack, including a retaliatory response from Russia or Assad’s regime. “You think about the first U.S. strike, whatever that looks like, but then Assad said he’s going to attack Israel,” he stated. 

Is he going to bomb Tel-Aviv? Does he use chemicals in Tel-Aviv? Does Israel strike back? Does any sort of Arab Coalition backing the U.S. fall apart? Does Russia get involved? Do Russian advisers get harmed or killed by a U.S. strike because they are in there advising the Assad regime? Does Assad launch a Surface to Air Missile attack to a U.S. warship out in the Mediterranean? This thing could escalate really quickly. 

The conservative congressman asserted he does not see any U.S. national interest that compel America’s armed forces to get involved. “It’s their civil war,” he said. “Why should we get involved? I don’t see any imminent threat to the United States with what’s going on in Syria.”

VIDEO OF EXCHANGE BETWEEN DUNCAN AND KERRY:

FULL TRANSCRIPT OF EXCHANGE BETWEEN DUNCAN AND KERRY:

DUNCAN: “You know I can’t discuss the possibility of U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war without also talking about Benghazi. This administration has a serious credibility issue with the American people. There are questions surrounding the Benghazi terrorist attack almost a year. When you factor in the IRS targeting of conservative groups, the AP and James Rosen issues, Fast and Furious, and NSA spying programs, the bottom line is there is a need for accountability and trust building from the administration. To paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche, he said I’m not upset over you not telling me the truth. I’m upset because from now on, I can’t believe you. The administration has a credibility issue. In my opinion, Secretaries Kerry and Hagel, Benghazi is germane to the discussions in Syria, because as you stated Mr. Secretary, the world was and is watching for our response. But after almost a year of not bringing anyone to justice in Benghazi, they are watching our response. Mr. Kerry, your predecessor asked what difference does it make? Well now this is the difference, Mr. Secretary: These issues call into question the accountability of this administration, its commitment to the personnel on the ground and the judgment that it uses when making these determinations. The American people deserve answers before we move forward talking about military involvement in Syria. Section 4 of your testimony today said this is about accountability. Sure it is. The American people deserve answers about Benghazi before we move forward with military involvement in Syria’s civil war. This is a picture – you might not be able to see it here, but you might be able to see it on the screen – this is a picture of Tyrone Woods given to me by his father Charles Woods, a Navy SEAL. The Woods family deserves answers. He was killed in Benghazi. America deserves answers before we send another man or woman the caliber of Ty Woods into harm’s way especially in a civil war, especially when there’s no clear indication that there is an imminent threat to the United States. I don’t question that chemical weapons were used in Syria. I’ve looked at the classified briefings. I do ask that if so, where are the other signatory countries of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) as the U.S. beats the drums of war against this regime in Syria? I have spoken to hundreds of constituents. This represents about 300 emails that my office has gotten and not a one, not a one member in my district in South Carolina are the emails of the people that have my contacted my office say ‘Go to Syria and fight this regime.’ To a letter, they say ‘no, do not go into Syria. Don’t get involved in their civil war.’ I spoke to eighth graders, about 150 eighth graders, yesterday. They get it. They get it that we shouldn’t be drug into somebody else’s civil war where there are no good guys. There are no good guys to get behind here and I can only envision an escalation of this current conflict. The same administration that was so quick to singly involve the U.S. in Syria now was so reluctant to use the same resources at its disposal to attempt to rescue the four brave Americans that fought for their lives at Benghazi. Mr. Kerry, you have never been one who has advocated for anything other than caution when involving U.S. forces in past conflicts. The same is true for the president and the vice president. Is the power of the executive branch so intoxicating that you would abandon past caution in favor of pulling the trigger on a military response so quickly? The reason that I say Benghazi is germane to our discussion on Syria is this: Secretary Kerry, have there been any efforts on the part of the United States directly or indirectly to provide weapons to the Syrian rebels? That would also include facilitating the transfer of weapons from Libyan rebels to Syrian rebels.

KERRY: Have there been efforts to…?

DUNCAN: Put weapons in the hands of the Syrian rebels. Also the transfer of weapons from Libya to Syria.

KERRY: Let me begin Congressman by challenging your proposition that I’ve never done anything except advocate caution, because I volunteered to fight for my country and that wasn’t a cautious thing to do when I did it.

CROSSTALK

KERRY: I’m going to finish, Congressman. I am going to finish. When I was in the United States Senate, I supported military action any number of occasions including Grenada, Panama, I can run down a list of them. I am not going to sit here and be told by you that I don’t have a sense of what the judgment is with respect to this. We’re talking about people being killed by gas and you want to go talk about Benghazi and Fast and Furious.

DUNCAN: I absolutely want to talk about Benghazi. Four Americans lost their lives. I have sympathy for the people in Syria. And I do think there should be a worldwide response. But we should act cautiously.

CROSSTALK

KERRY: We are acting cautiously. We are acting so cautiously that the president of the United States was accused of not acting because he wanted to have sufficient evidence and he wanted to build the case properly.

DUNCAN: It’s been 15 days.

KERRY: Congressman, Congressman.

CROSSTALK

KERRY: Mr. Chairman, point of privilege here, this is important. I think this is important. I think it is important whether or not we’re going into Syria in a way that the Congressman describes which I think most people in America don’t want to see. You don’t want to do that. That’s why the president has said no boots on the ground. This is not about getting into Syria’s civil war. This is about enforcing the principle that people shouldn’t be allowed to gas their citizens with impunity and if we don’t vote to do this, Assad will interpret from you that he’s free to go and do this any day he wants to. That’s what this is about, not getting involved in Syria’s civil war. So let’s draw the proper distinction here Congressman. We don’t deserve to drag this into yet another Benghazi discussion when the real issue here is whether or not the Congress is going to stand up for international norms with respect to dictators that have only been broken twice until Assad: Hitler and Saddam Hussein. And if we give license to somebody to continue that, shame on us.


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