All you really need to know about Darrell Issa’s renewed crusade to get the “truth” about last year’s Benghazi attacks is that his report on the alleged Accountability Review Board “whitewash” mentions former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 33 times.
Oh, and it also got a key fact or two wrong. At least.
On Thursday the ARB chairs, Adm. Mike Mullen and former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, testified at a House Oversight Committee hearing arranged to promote Issa’s newest “scandal”: his claim that the ARB protected Clinton from responsibility in the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans at the Benghazi compound last year. (Issa does not appear to realize that Clinton immediately and repeatedly took full and public responsibility for the deaths.)
Sadly for Issa, he immediately had to retract one of his report’s most inflammatory charges: that Mullen had “undermined” the review board’s credibility by giving State Department Chief of Staff (and longtime Clinton aide) Cheryl Mills an inappropriate “heads up” before her testimony to the ARB. In fact, Mullen testified to the Oversight Committee that he had notified Mills about the planned congressional testimony of another State Department official, Charlene Lamb (who was ultimately among four employees singled out for criticism in the ARB report).
Issa called the distortion of Mullen’s actual testimony an unintentional “typo” – even though he’s been hyping it as central to his “whitewash” charges.
Another day, another Darrell Issa embarrassment.
Far from being a “whitewash,” the ARB found fault with the security-related decision-making of four State Department officials, who have since been removed from their posts. But Mullen and Pickering have repeatedly said they found no evidence that any of those individuals passed concerns about Benghazi security to department higher-ups.
Because Pickering spent 42 years at the State Department, Issa accused him of “bias.” In fact such review boards always include principals with experience in the field – the five-member Benghazi ARB included two State Department insiders and three outsiders, including Mullen.
Mr. Chairman, with greatest respect, this was not, quote, a ‘gotcha’ investigative panel. The responsibilities were to provide recommendations to see that we do our best never to let this happen again. Would you choose, put it this way, someone with no experience to come in and investigate and carry forward the work? We used to years ago elect military officers. we stopped that a long time ago. I suspect that brain surgery was one of the most early professionalized occupations in the world. Why would you choose a panel of people who knew nothing about the responsibilities? Nothing about how and in what way they were carried out? The value of this panel was three were from outside and only two of us were from inside, hopefully to give precisely the cross current of controversy, discussion, questioning and examination that you just expressed the hope we had. We, sir, had that.
So far, the hearing seems to be answering one question I’ve had about Issa’s crusade: Why did he wait so long to interview Pickering and Mullen in public? Back in May, both men volunteered to give public testimony to the committee about the ARB process. But Issa declined; he insisted they testify privately. From their private testimony, the GOP majority produced the myth- and error-ridden report they leaked earlier this week. Now, so far in public testimony, Issa has been embarrassed twice – and it’s still early. No wonder he hoped to take his first crack at Pickering and Mullen out of camera range.
The ranking Democrat on the committee, Elijah Cummings, produced a counterreport that documented the distortion of Mullen’s testimony about Cheryl Mills and other such factual errors and leaps of illogic in Issa’s IRB review. (It’s here.) Among Cummings’ findings: There was no “stand down” order to the military; Clinton did not personally sign a cable authorizing security reductions to the temporary facility; in fact, officials have been removed from their posts for bad judgment on Benghazi security.
To Issa’s assertion that military help should have been ordered, Mullen replied: “There’s no one I’ve ever met in the military that wouldn’t want to get help there instantly," [but] “the physics of it, the reality of it, it just wasn’t going to happen for 12 to 20 hours.” Cummings' report also quotes Pickering explaining that he owed it to Chris Stevens to conduct a thorough review: “Chris gave me two wonderful years of his life in supporting me in very difficult circumstances,” Pickering told the committee in June. “I owed him, his family, and the families of the other people who died the best possible report we could put together."
Over at Hot Air, Ed Morrissey reveals the right-wing reasoning behind the renewed Benghazi obsession:
[It] will put a lot of public pressure on Hillary to make an appearance at the Oversight hearings, which takes the onus off of Republicans to issue a subpoena. At that point, Issa will issue a public invitation to Hillary to address the issues that have arisen from a multitude of sources about the incompetence and deceit at State during her tenure. If she refuses to appear, that’s not going to look good, regardless of whether she wants to run for office later or not. It won’t prevent Oversight from making a damning case about her leadership at State, either.
Morrissey is right about one thing: Nothing will prevent Issa from making a damning case about Clinton’s leadership, whether or not one exists.