The House committee investigating the 2012 attack in Benghazi that left a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead did not end its work after questioning Hillary Clinton yesterday. Despite what you may have heard from numskulls like Kevin McCarthy and Democrats desperate to close what has proved to be a damaging chapter of Clinton’s record as secretary of state, Clinton is not the primary reason House members continue to look into the events leading up to and following that attack. The fact is that a previous House committee and even an independent Accountability Review Board left significant gaps in the public record of just what happened, as committee Chairman Trey Gowdy outlined during his opening remarks yesterday:
“(T)he House of Representatives, including some Democrats I hasten to add, asked this committee to write the final accounting of what happened in Benghazi. This committee is the first committee to review more than 50,000 pages of documents, because we insisted that they be produced. This committee is the first committee to demand access to more eyewitnesses, because serious investigations talk to as many eyewitnesses as possible. This committee is the first committee to thoroughly and individually interview scores of other witnesses, many of them for the first time. This committee is the first committee to review thousands of pages of documents from top State Department personnel. This committee is the first committee to demand access to relevant documents from the CIA, the FBI, the Department Of Defense and even the White House.
“This committee is the first committee to demand access to the emails to and from Ambassador Chris Stevens. How could an investigation possibly be considered serious without reviewing the emails of the person most knowledgeable about Libya?
“This committee is the first committee, the only committee, to uncover the fact that Secretary Clinton exclusively used personnel email on her own personal server for official business and kept the public record, including e-mails about Benghazi and Libya, in her own custody and control for almost two years after she left office.”
Every one of those points is serious stuff. You want to know why Congress isn’t done looking into Benghazi? Because of the shortcomings of those investigations — including, yes, a prior congressional investigation led by House Republicans. As for the ARB, Gowdy pointed out its members were selected by State Department officials, and they did not even interview Clinton, review her emails or leave transcripts of their interviews. “That is not independent,” Gowdy said. “That is not accountability. That is not a serious investigation.” His own committee, he noted at one point yesterday, still has about 20 witnesses to interview before it’s done.
So the committee has a perfectly legitimate purpose. Quite independent of that purpose, its work is proving damaging to Clinton’s presidential candidacy. The revelation Gowdy mentioned about his committee being the first to reveal publicly that Clinton exclusively used a private email account while at State — leading to the discovery she’d unilaterally deleted some 30,000 emails from her homebrew server, and a series of ever-evolving excuses about why and how she made that arrangement — is worthy of public knowledge. That it also has caused her reputation for honesty, among other things, to plummet in opinion polls is but an understandable consequence of that public knowledge.
Here, though, a word of caution to those Republican presidential candidates and operatives who are focused on how to defeat Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in next year’s election. If you think these findings alone are going to sink Clinton, you have truly learned nothing from the 2012 election.
In 2012, Mitt Romney and the GOP apparently believed it was sufficient to talk about Obamacare, spending during President Obama’s tenure, and everything else unpopular Obama had done, presenting Romney as “not Obama.” Given the lack of success of Republican candidates in winning the primary as “not Romney,” the inefficacy of that approach should have been apparent. But they don’t call the GOP the “stupid party” for nothing.
Next year, we will learn whether you can teach dumb elephants new tricks. Because if their pointing out Clinton’s flaws is not a small element of their campaign, overshadowed by their own positive vision for where they can lead the country, they will be sitting on the Capitol lawn come Jan. 20, 2017, watching Bill grin as Hillary is inaugurated.
Even to the extent negative campaigning is helpful, Clinton will not be undone by the Benghazi findings and email scandal, short of an actual indictment (the prospect of which was pretty much extinguished when Joe Biden said he wasn’t going to run, likely signaling the White House will quash any attempt to charge her no matter what the FBI turns up in its own investigation of the emails).
For a start, they should try pressuring Clinton to say if she would have done as Obama did yesterday and vetoed a bipartisan defense spending bill for reasons unrelated to defense spending or policy.
Oh, Obama dredged up a few security-related excuses to justify his action. But it has been clear all along that his real aim is to force Republicans to give in on his demand that they lift the caps on domestic spending imposed by sequestration. It is rather rich to hear Obama and his supporters, having brazenly taken credit for the modicum of fiscal discipline that congressional Republicans forced on him via sequestration, now say those caps should be lifted everywhere or else military members won’t get their paychecks. For all the cries about partisanship in Washington, it will be instructive to see if enough Democrats can muster the courage to do the right thing and help override his irresponsible veto.
Either way, Clinton should not be allowed to skate on this question. She wants to be commander-in-chief; she should say whether she would do as Obama did, or instead stand with our soldiers and their families. In 2008, she suggested Obama wasn’t ready to take the proverbial 3 a.m. phone call. But more often, the problem for Obama has been the 3 p.m. phone call — the one he hasn’t made to members of Congress to work toward a resolution, or in this case, the one he took about a piece of bipartisan legislation that passed over his objections and veto threats.
The Benghazi investigation is telling us much about Clinton’s character and judgment. But Americans also deserve to know whether she’d play politics with the military as Obama is doing.