The Benghazi bust: Trey Gowdy and his GOP colleagues embarrassed themselves

If anyone doubted the Benghazi committee was a partisan joke, yesterday's Clinton hearing confirmed it

Published October 23, 2015 5:57PM (EDT)

  (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
(AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

There’s not really any good news for the GOP in the aftermath of yesterday’s House Benghazi Committee interrogation of Hillary Clinton. There had been some flickers of hope among conservative activists that the committee Republicans, led by chairman Trey Gowdy, would finally produce the long-rumored “smoking gun” that would prove once and for all that Hillary did… whatever evil thing she supposedly did with regard the Benghazi. Or maybe they’d goad her into making a terrible gaffe that would ruin her politically. But that’s not what happened.

After weeks of damaging stories about the Benghazi committee’s partisan agenda and vanishing credibility, it might have done Gowdy some good to put together a quiet and informative hearing that was befitting the “serious investigation” that he insisted he was leading. Instead, Gowdy took the lead role in proving correct each one of his Republican colleagues who said the committee was focused on damaging Hillary Clinton’s presidential chances.

In his opening statement, Gowdy tried to shoot down allegations that the committee was focused on Clinton. “There are people frankly in both parties who have suggested that this investigation is about you,” Gowdy said to Hillary at the outset. “Let me assure you it is not.” But when it came time for Gowdy to ask questions, he focused singularly on Clinton’s emails with Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime Clinton friend and DC barnacle who was feeding Hillary intelligence “reports” from a source he knew in Libya. Gowdy used the volume of emails sent from Blumenthal to Clinton to portray him as a key advisor who had unfettered access to Clinton, and contrasted him with slain Libya ambassador Chris Stevens, who never emailed Clinton directly. “Help us understand how Sidney Blumenthal had that kind of access to you, Madame Secretary, but the ambassador did not,” Gowdy asked with much gravity.

Gowdy’s implication – that Stevens either lacked access to Clinton or that Clinton prioritized her communications with Blumenthal – was flagrantly false, and Gowdy knows it was false. Stevens had access to Clinton through a variety of means and could have been in touch with her at a moment’s notice if he’d wanted. But Gowdy used the frequency of email communication – and only email communication – to give the impression that Blumenthal was in the loop while the ambassador was not.

This theme was picked up on by his Republican colleagues, who weren’t nearly as subtle in their dishonesty as Gowdy was. Rep. Mike Pompeo grandiosely asked Clinton if Stevens had had Clinton’s cell phone number, fax number, or home address, and if he’d ever “stopped by your house.” After Clinton said no to all these things, Pompeo went in for what he thought was the kill: “Mr. Blumenthal had each of those and did each of those things. This man who provided you so much information on Libya had access to you in ways that were very different from the access that a very senior diplomat had to you and your person.” If you’re the sort of thick-headed dolt who thinks the ambassador was at a disadvantage because he couldn’t send the Secretary of State a postcard or pop in on her every Sunday afternoon, then this point was probably quite compelling.

While the Republicans were wasting their time trying to portray Clinton as a tool of Sid Blumenthal, the Democrats used their time to make clear just how pointless they believe the entire investigation is and allowed Clinton her opportunities to offer sanitized and carefully worded defenses of the Libya intervention. At least one member of the committee used the hearing to pose useful and interesting questions about issues that arose from the Benghazi attack: Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). She asked Clinton about policies for outsourcing security to local militias and security contractors, which has caused problems for the State Department and other government agencies.

All in all it was a bust for Gowdy and the Benghazi committee, to the point that conservative pundits were griping about how poorly the Republicans fared against Clinton. Anyone who doubted that the committee was a partisan exercise in Clinton-bashing came away free of doubts. The only sliver of good news for the Republicans is that it likely won’t matter. The notion that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton engineered some sort of evil Benghazi cover-up is already assumed to be true in the minds of conservatives and Republican voters. The fact that Gowdy and crew spent the day stepping on rakes and scoring own-goals in a failed attempt to “prove” it won’t change their minds. And the House GOP won’t put the brakes on the investigation because the committee’s utility as a vehicle for strategic press leaks outweighs the bad press it’s enduring at the moment. The Benghazi committee will grind on, performing much the same role it always has.

Highlights from the 11-hour hearing:
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By Simon Maloy

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