ARLINGTON, Va., April 29 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Defense this week sent a letter to the House panel still investigating the 2012 attack in Benghazi and expressed frustration with the committee's prolonged probe and exhaustive requests, which have persisted for nearly two years.
The letter was sent to Benghazi panel chair Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., from Stephen Hedger, the assistant secretary of Defense. It is dated April 28.
"I write in response to the Select Committee on Benghazi's recent crescendo of requests of the Department of Defense," Hedger wrote to start the letter, before identifying hundreds of pages of documents, several classified briefings and other cooperation given by the Pentagon over the past year to the Benghazi investigators.
In February, the committee members made a "final list" of requests which Hedger said was repeatedly added to in subsequent weeks. Last week, the letter said, it was further expanded to include interview requests for four service members who had never before been mentioned by the panel since its formation in May 2014.
"While we understand that investigations evolve over time, it is unfortunate that the committee has identified the need for these interviews only now," Hedger wrote in the letter. "The number and continued pace of these requests since February 2016 are in tension with your staff's statements that the committee expects to finish its investigation in the near term."
The committee, created in May 2014 by former speaker John Boehner, has been looking into the militant attack on the U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, that killed four American officials and seven Libyans. The panel, consisting of seven Republicans and five Democrats, has been active for 722 days.
"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 particularly criticized the committee, which has been accused of being a partisan attack on the Obama administration, for what he views as tactics that are a bit too heavy-handed and unnecessary.
"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," he said. "The Committee has made requests of individuals who seem unnecessary even for a comprehensive investigation, or has insisted we prioritize certain requests only to later abandon the request."
The letter detailed three examples in which the panel made such requests. One, it said, asked the Pentagon to track down four pilots who were not even in Benghazi during the attack. Hedger said money and resources were spent locating the pilots, only to have investigators later drop the request.
Another included a panel request to interview someone who made a post to Facebook alluding to the Benghazi incident -- a potentially difficult and expensive lead to track down that Hedger said was entirely unnecessary.
Perhaps the strangest request from investigators, according to the Pentagon, was one seeking a person known as "John from Iowa" -- a man claiming to be a remotely piloted aircraft camera operator who called into a local radio talk show and claimed to have knowledge of the Benghazi attack.
"The Department has expended significant resources to locate anyone who might match the description of this person, to no avail," Hedger wrote. "The Committee staff then expanded this initial request to include all RPA pilots and RPA sensor operators who operated in the region that night."
Hedger concluded the letter asking for a meeting with Gowdy to identify a more productive way forward.
"While I understand your stated intent is to conduct the most comprehensive review of the attack and response, Congress has as much of an obligation as the Executive Branch to use federal resources and taxpayer dollars effectively and efficiently."
Gowdy did not immediately respond publicly to the Pentagon's letter.
To date, the House Select Committee on Benghazi has spent nearly $7 million. Critics of the panel have stated that its Benghazi probe has lasted longer than the investigations of Pearl Harbor, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Iran-Contra and Hurricane Katrina.
Some Democrats believe the Benghazi panel is a partisan attempt to derail the presidential bid of former State chief Hillary Clinton -- which has been dogged by questions about the attack and the use of a private email server for official business.
"I mean, it would be nice if the FBI moved it along," she told Fox Business, with a laugh.