Last week, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy handed Hillary Clinton and the Democrats a gift when he went on TV and said, several times, that the House Select Committee on Benghazi has demonstrated its value by eroding Clinton’s poll numbers ahead of the 2016 presidential race. It was a statement of the obvious – the GOP’s interest in Benghazi has long been pegged to Hillary’s political future – but to have a member of the Republican leadership just come right out and say it made it impossible to pretend that the committee’s investigation is being conducted in anything resembling good faith. McCarthy gave the Democrats an opening, and they’re plowing right through it.
For Clinton, it was an opportunity to vent a little moral outrage and beat up on her Republican opponents. She appeared on Monday’s edition of NBC’s "Today" (video below) and went all hammer-and-tongs against the Benghazi committee for exploiting the tragedy to attack her, invoking McCarthy’s gaffe as frequently as she could.
The more interesting response to McCarthy’s remarks, however, has come from the Benghazi committee’s Democratic minority. For months now, the committee Democrats have been complaining, often to little attention, of misbehavior by the Republican majority: interviewing witnesses without informing the minority, selectively leaking portions of transcribed interviews to journalists, and slow-walking the pace of the investigation. In the aftermath of McCarthy’s gaffe, the Democrats are getting bolder and challenging the credibility of committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy.
Yesterday, the Democratic minority released portions of former Clinton aide Cheryl Mills’ Sept. 3 testimony before the committee “to begin the process of correcting the public record.” As they pointed out, Republicans began leaking snippets of Mills’ testimony almost immediately and used her words to suggest that the independence of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board investigation into Benghazi had been compromised. That wasn’t true, as the full context of Mills’ remarks made clear, but misleading leaks of this sort have become commonplace as the investigation has dragged on. They’ve been made possible by Gowdy’s insistence on treating interview transcripts as “classified,” and the fact that leaks keep on happening suggests that Gowdy really isn’t too concerned about protecting this information in any meaningful way. (Responding to one of the many leaking episodes, Gowdy actually blamed Hillary Clinton for the fact that someone on his committee disseminated inaccurate information to the press.)
McCarthy’s remarks provided the “this is the last straw” moment the Democrats needed to call out Gowdy:
Our authority to take this action should be clear since you took similar unilateral action on June 22, 2015, when you publicly released a subset of Secretary Clinton’s emails—without any debate or vote by Committee Members. Therefore, just as you unilaterally released these Committee documents, we plan to release Ms. Mills’ interview transcript.
We do not take this action lightly. We have held off on taking such action for more than a year, but we will no longer sit and watch selective, out-of-context leaks continue to mischaracterize the testimony the Select Committee has received.
A Gowdy spokesman pushed back, arguing: “Democrats have shown their nakedly political motivation, willingness to violate the letter and spirit of House Rules, and their desire to defend Secretary Clinton without regard for the integrity of the investigation.” It’s a pretty weak response, given McCarthy’s acknowledgment of the committee’s “nakedly political motivation,” and the evidence laid out by the Democrats demonstrating how shabbily Gowdy has maintained “the integrity of the investigation.”
What little credibility the Benghazi committee enjoys rests on Gowdy’s reputation as a serious, prosecutorial investigator. Gowdy has worked diligently to cultivate that aura of seriousness and has insisted at every possible opportunity that the Benghazi investigation is only about the facts surrounding the attack. It looks like the committee’s Democrats aren’t willing to tolerate that fiction anymore and are moving aggressively to counter it, and it’s all because Kevin McCarthy couldn’t keep his mouth shut.