Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is testifying in front of the Benghazi Select Committee for the first time Friday morning. He will undoubtedly be questioned about claims the Pentagon told American forces in Benghazi to stand down before going to the U.S. Consulate to try and save U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and Information Management Officer Sean Smith on the tragic night of September 11, 2012. On “Andrea Mitchell Reports” Thursday, Panetta said that report was a falsehood.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “You know, I'm sure there are going to be movies and books and there will be all kinds of theories that will be presented, but from my experience, and from the role that I played as secretary of defense, there was never any order to stand down. On the contrary, the whole effort was to do everything possible to try to save lives.”
Three of the soldiers who were there beg to differ. Kris Paronto, Mark Geist and John Tiegen are the forces behind the book "13 Hours," written by Mitchell Zuckoff, and new film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, which accuses the CIA of telling them to wait as the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was under attack.
I attended the press junket for 13 Hours this week and had the chance to ask all three of the soldiers if they were told to stand down. They shared what an infuriating toll those 30 minutes played on their emotions. In separate interviews, they’ve said, without hesitation, that had they left earlier they could have saved both Stevens and Smith.
We’ll have those compelling interviews, as well as a conversation with star John Krasinski, next week.