Beyond any shadow of a doubt, Republicans set out to tear down and disgrace Hillary Clinton with the Benghazi hearing and made that obvious in their conduct; in the end, they only succeeded in tearing down and disgracing themselves, and provided a childish, ignorant contrast to Clinton’s states(wo)man-like, knowledgeable performance.
January 13, 2019 Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse November 3, 2015
By Brian E. Frydenborg (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter @bfry1981) November 3rd, 2015
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
As I begin to write this piece, I must confess that I am filled with some very mixed and intense emotions.
I am so proud of Hillary Clinton and how she conducted herself in the face of what was clearly a witch hunt of epic proportions and during proceedings disrespectful to her from the moment questions began, proud of the Democrats on the Committee who substantively and skillfully exposed the nonsense and deception of their Republican colleagues and stood up for truth and justice; I am hopeful and confident after seeing Clinton’s amazing conduct in the hearing, and after her “spectacular” debate performance a few weeks ago, that soon-to-be President Hillary Rodham Clinton (barring a disaster initiated by Clinton herself or a major change in the Republicans’ behavior, I see this as almost inevitable and I see this hearing as the moment when she cemented herself as far and above the best candidate in the eyes of enough of the American people to make it happen) has a chance to save America from itself and build on the Obama legacy.
At the same time, I am sad at seeing the sorry level of dysfunction and the utter lack of seriousness or genuine interests in serving the people that the Republican Party as a whole has displayed; I am disgusted at the level of games and tricks based on selective presentation and false, repeatedly debunked (even by Republicans) claims that the Benghazi-seven-Republican right-wing partisan hacks who were utterly devoid of substance threw at Clinton over and over again; and I am enraged at the level of unmerited disrespect that so high and so substantive a government official as former Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton has had to endure, and enraged by a hearing in which a committee claiming to be focused on the Benghazi attacks and honoring the memory of four dead public servants instead twisted their memory to attempt to win cheap political points against Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton. That the Republicans utterly failed is an honor the memory of those brave public servants who perished on September 11th, 2012, letting the country know that their deaths cannot be easily used for partisan shenanigans.
What Eight Prior Investigations Have Already Told Us
The record is important. This record involved eight prior investigations: in order, one commissioned by the State Department and produced by an Accountability Review Board (ARB) initiated by then-Secretary Clinton and led by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering who had served both Republican and Democratic presidents for over forty years and by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Admiral Mike Mullen, one Republican-led House committee that investigated the ARB, two bipartisan Senate committees, and finally four more committee investigation by the Republican-led House. While a few of these included criticism of Clinton, they were unable to tie any specific decision or non-decision of Clinton to any wrongdoing or negligence, e.g., one report criticized Clinton the State Department’s reduction of security personnel in Benghazi from 2011 to 2012 even though she testified that she did not personally receive any requests for additional security in Benghazi; what they did generally show was specific wrongdoing by a handful of other people not directly part of Clinton’s staff and some confusion amid conflicting reports and mixed messaging throughout the Obama Administration; in other words, Clinton was not deserving in any way of a significant portion of the failure to protect the lives of four Americans in the attacks and was not the person responsible for making the specific decisions that led to inadequate security.
Republicans Hope the Ninth Benghazi Investigation Will Magically Blame Clinton in Ways Eight Others Could Not
As for the current, and ninth official, investigation, Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy, Republican Representative of South Carolina, opened proceedings with a statement that was petulant, partisan, angry, defensive, and self-congratulatory in tone, a tone that, as chances (or, more accurately, design) would have it, characterized the entire proceedings in regards to the behavior of the seven Republicans on the Committee: Gowdy (202-225-6030), Susan Brooks of Indiana (202-225-2276), Jim Jordan of Ohio (202-225-2676), Mike Pompeo of Kansas (202-225-6216), Martha Roby of Alabama (202-225-2901), Peter Roskam of Illinois (202-225-4561), and Lynne Westmoreland of Georgia (202) 225-5901). None of these representatives were in office before 2007, and most were not in office before 2011, some only since 2013; in other words, not the lack of senior, well-respected Republicans with gravitas (feel free to call their offices and let them know how you feel after reading this!).
In some ways, the aforementioned tone was not and should not have been surprising.
Yet in other ways, it was very surprising: the sheer repetitiveness of the questions, the shocking ignorance of the most basic inner working of the State Department and other federal agencies, the stunning myopia of an inability to see the larger picture, the rehashing of old arguments that have repeatedly been debunked on a bipartisan basis before, during, and after the hearing, the striking inability to incorporate any of Clinton’s testimony into their reasoning or statements or questions, the level of rudeness and disrespect… all these combined to truly make the Republicans look childish, uninformed, unstable, and pathetically unfit for office in what can only be described as a blatant and obvious manner. When they tried to muster anger and indignity, they simply came off as silly, unserious, ridiculous, forced, and, frankly, as bad actors in a bad movie.
If that is not bad enough, they all repeatedly demonstrated these qualities in the presence of a Hillary Clinton who is one of the few active elder states(wo)men left in American politics. Throughout proceedings she generally remained cool, calm, and collected, with a near-superhuman level of patience during her eleven hour ordeal. Never once did she descend the level of those attacking her, and the few times she expressed exasperation and wounded pride (most often in defense of others) at the shameful suggestions, among others, that she did not care or try to help her staff when they were in danger, she did so in a dignified way and only after repeatedly enduring the same accusations, displaying some fire and emotion in such a way that any non-conservative-partisans (and perhaps even some conservative partisans) would not be able see as anything other than justified. Clinton also demonstrated a depth and breadth of knowledge that put those taking cheap shots at her to shame, effortless recalling an astounding level of detail and providing very sensible explanations for every line of attack mounted against her. She skillfully showed that those interrogating her had either not reviewed relevant material or were either selectively presenting an incomplete picture. Perhaps most amusingly, most of the Republicans repeatedly smirked smugly, clearly thinking they had got the better of Clinton when only they themselves and their core supporters are delusional enough to even come close to thinking that.
With some fellow Republicans expressing concern about how this would play out, that this hearing could backfire against the Republican Party, it is dumbfounding that the Republicans on the Committee proceeded as they did, the very definition of hubris and incaution, seemingly oblivious to the possibilities that any of them could be wrong in their calculations or that the public would not see things in the way they wished them to see them, so visceral, it seems, was their hatred of Hilary Clinton. Every single one of them spewed non-stop contempt, not realizing the amount of public and national contempt they were earning themselves. In the end, the eleven hours of proceedings became a marathon campaign commercial for both Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, and the hearing may very well go down as one of the key moments of the 2016 presidential election. After this hearing and the debate, it is very difficult to see how Hillary can be stopped in her quest for the presidency, either by Bernie Sanders or by the Republicans. It is now hers to lose, largely thanks to an unintended own-goal on the part of the Republicans that could go down as one of the greatest political blunders/gaffes/miscalculations in modern memory.
But, if you don’t have an entire day to do so now (although I strongly encourage you to do so over time), I will break the hearing down for you and discuss it here.
Let the Inquisition Begin
Rep. Roksam was the first in a series of salvos against Clinton. Roksam’s effort, consistent throughout his questioning, was to portray the entire Obama Administration’s policy as being Clinton-concocted, Clinton-pushed, Clinton-owned, basically a Clinton policy. The idea he kept pushing was that she was responsible for Libya overall and that Libya overall was a failure. Such a simple characterization of responsibility for a policy defies reality and defies this case specifically; as Clinton explained, she was just one person in the Administration, President Obama himself was the one who made the decision, and there were a number of America’s closest allies who were eager to join together to intervene and to have U.S. assistance in any intervention. As for the idea that the Libya policy is a failure, that is incredibly myopic; the appropriate question to ask is what was the situation before the intervention, what effect did it have, and what is the condition of Libya in the period after the intervention. Republicans seem to think that Libya was some sort of paradise before NATO intervention, and that the intervention ruined Libya; the reality is that Libya was in the middle of a raging civil war and that massive amounts of civilians were under immediate threat from Qaddafi’s forces, who had threatened mass killings. The intervention prevented many of these killings and brought an end to the war in months, both of which saved many thousands of lives. Yemen, Syria, and Iraq are only the latest examples of how civil wars and civil conflict in the greater Middle East/North Africa region, left to their own devices, generally burn out only over long periods of time and take many, many years to resolve at a high cost in human life. Afghanistan and Algeria are other examples stretching back further in history. It is far more likely that the Libyan Civil War of 2011, left to its own devices, would have continued to rage at a high level, drawing many foreign fighters, displacing millions of people, and destabilizing its neighbors, not only in North Africa but also in Southern Europe. As bad as the situation is in Libya today, it could have been far worse, and just because Libya faces severe instability and continued fighting does not mean that the NATO intervention was not successful in mitigating the levels of violence and saving many thousands of lives; it was never designed to produce a stable, secure, safe Libya in the long-term as that was wisely not a responsibility NATO chose to undertake, but, rather, left that to the Libyan people and its neighbors. That they have not succeeded is not something a sound analysis can place within the responsibility, President Obama, or Hillary Clinton. That is not to suggest that more could not or even should not have been done, but the idea that Roksam aggressively pushed, that Hillary Clinton is personally responsible for ruining Libya and, therefore, for the events that led to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi in September 2012, is simply ridiculous. It is important to have a discussion about our Libya policy, and how it could have been better but also what good it did do. However, the scope of this hearing is supposed to be focused on the September 11th, 2012 Benghazi attack, not to put the Administration’s entire Libya policy on trial.
In addition, Roksam tried to portray Clinton’s ideas on Libya as motivated mainly by a desire for personal political gain and being able to take credit for the policy, twisting the contents of a handful of e-mails to make his flimsy case for such an outrageous and disrespectful accusation for which there is no serious evidence. These unfair and unsubstantiated charges were repeated throughout the hearing by Roksam.
Up next for the Republicans was Rep. Brooks. With smile on her face, feeling that she was about to have a “gotchya” moment with Clinton, she put two stacks of paper printouts of Clinton’s e-mails in front of her; one contained all her e-mails about Libya from 2011, when U.S. military forces were intervening in a raging civil war, and it was a big pile; the second pile was a tiny pile, and contained all the e-mails from the beginning of 2012 until the day of the attack. Brooks clearly felt as if the number of e-mails sent and received on the subject in her e-mail account signified a “lack of interest,” as if e-mail is the primary method that a U.S. Secretary of States uses to conduct business, not phone calls, meetings, classified documents that are not allowed to be transmitted though e-mails, memos, briefings, etc. This absurd notion betrays a stunning ignorance about how the State Department and presidential Cabinet officers operate. Clinton gave a reasonable and substantive answer that detailed how she did not conduct most of her work over e-mail, but Brooks continued her line of questioning as if Clinton had never explained that, continue to focus on the lack of e-mails in 2012 as if that proved that Clinton did not care about Libya. What was not said was that it was appropriate for Clinton to put less energy into Libya and have a reduced focus on Libya in 2012 because the NATO intervention had ended. The Secretary of State has to deal with crises all over the world, and it is natural that focus shifts over time. So of course Libya was not going to warrant the same attention in 2012 when the war and intervention were over as it did in 2011. That does not mean Clinton did not care, and that the attention she gave to Libya was insignificant.
Republican Rep. Roby continued in this same vein of complaining about the disparity in the number Libya e-mails from 2011 to 2012, annoyingly, as if Brooks had not just done the exact same thing. At one point she cited a tiny number of e-mails from two State Department employees who seemed to question if Clinton knew State had a facility in Benghazi, two employees that she referred to as “your staffers” when addressing Clinton. Clinton asked for their names and it turned out they were not her staff at all, except in the large sense of the fact that they worked for the State Department, as did over 70,000 other people, but they were not at all part of Clinton’s personal team and therefore did not work for the Office of the Secretary. Clinton rightly pointed out that she could not be responsible for any confusion or mistaken impressions two staffers out of tens of thousands had regarding her Libya policy.
Roby then opened up a line of attack that would be repeated ad nauseamthroughout the hearing: that Secretary Clinton was personally responsible for the specific security measures taken at the Benghazi facility, and, by implication, all of the more than 250 State Department installations around the world. The way that Roby and other Republicans would frame this issue, everything from the physical defenses to the number of security guards are the personal responsibility of a Secretary of State and (OR?) Hillary Clinton. If something goes wrong at any of these 250+ diplomatic facilities, the Secretary of State should be shamed into disgrace. It is hard to imagine anything more absurd than such a gigantic level of ignorance about basic State Department and Executive Branch agency operations, which makes me consider that these Republicans, in fact, actually do know better and are simply maximizing the political theater. It’s hard to say because it is hard to imagine an elected official being so wrong and so ignorant, but then again, the bar seems to be getting lower and lower in recent years. For the sake of argument, let’s take their statements at face value: such a concept of responsibility is the equivalent of saying the Secretary of Defense is personally responsible for the details of every single military base’s defense, or that the New York City Police Commissioner is personally responsible for every single police department’s security details. In fact, with cybersecurity being such an issue of late, using the Republicans’ logic one could say that the Secretary of State is personally and directly responsible for all details of cybersecurity in the State Department. Considering how specialized the field of IT is and how only IT experts can be reasonably tasked with such responsibility, that is clearly also absurd; well, physical security is similarly also a very specialized field, and a person with such diverse responsibilities as a U.S. Secretary of State is invariably not going to be a top-notch, specialized expertise in the realms of IT and cybersecurity or diplomatic security and planning specific defenses against violent attacks; invariably, such tasks are and should be handled by dedicated specialists. Yet the Republicans on this committee seem oblivious to this reality. Such an utter inanity would be amusing, were the subject not so serious. Of course a senior Cabinet-level position is not even supposed to come close to micromanaging details of security such as physical barriers and the number of guards present. Such responsibilities are necessarily delegated to lower-level specialist positions. It is simply a poor use of the time of someone as senior as the Secretary of State to spend a significant amount of time micromanaging and the Republicans of the Select Committee who do not understand this are unfit to even be in government at all, let alone lead an investigation ostensibly dedicated to looking into attacks on American government facilities.
Democratic Rep. Adam Smith was up next, and complained about the Republicans’ focus on Clinton’s e-mails or on criticizing the Administration’s overall Libya policy rather than focus on a more relevant scope that might actually help the Committee learn more about the specific events surrounding the attacks in Benghazi (you know, the stated purpose of the Committee’s existence!). He noted that the CIA and Defense officials were absent from the current hearing even they were all heavily involved in the events in questions, that only Clinton and only the role of State Department that she led were being questioned. He noted that when two attacks six months apart in 1983 in Beirut, Lebanon, killed 258 Americans (the first attack being a bombing of the U.S. Embassy that killed seventeen Americans—including both the CIA station chief and the CIA’s top Middle East analyst—and dozens of others, the second a bombing of a military barracks that killed 241 U.S. servicemen and 58 French paratroopers) that the then-Democratic Congress actually conducted a demonstrably non-partisan investigation of the Reagan Administration that was focused on avoiding a repeat of such a tragedy, not on scoring political points, even though the Reagan Administration’s negligence then was far worse than the failures that contributed to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi in 2012 (Reagan’s ludicrous explanation for his Administration not taking better precautions six-months after a major attack? “Anyone who’s ever had their kitchen done over knows that it never gets done as soon as you wish it would.”).
Smith also spent some of his initial time discussing with Clinton the fact that while Republicans were focusing on individual requests for security that were turned down within a vast State Department bureaucracy, they were totally avoiding the fact that the Republican-dominated House had been leading the way in underfunding the State Department’s diplomatic security (with even some of the those most prominently criticizing Clinton over Benghazi voting for the cuts) and that the partisan gridlock in Washington that has failed to pass annual budgets for some time, making it far more difficult to plan ahead and allot resources for security issues preemptively, was also an issue. That is not to say that it is not State’s responsibility to plan with the resources they have, but it is to point out a level of hypocrisy among those so concerned about security and especially blame after an attack, but who were not willing to give the State Department the funds it had requested in the run-up to the attack.
Next up for the Republicans, Rep. Westmoreland; he tried tried to disparage diplomatic security (who continually risk their lives and who successfully protect thousands of Americans in hostile environments 24 hours a day, 365 days a year), which got a polite though stern rebuke from Clinton. He continued, as others had and others would, to hold Clinton personally and individually responsible for specific security decisions at specific diplomatic installations.
He also built up on Brooks’ line of attack, that Clinton seemed not to care about Libya that much in 2012, but his accusations took on a much more sinister and despicable turn, and he would not be alone in this: he noted she was friends with Sidney Blumenthal, a former reporter and a confidante and friend of Clinton’s, and that Blumenthal had her e-mail; he then noted that Clinton said she was friends with Stevens, and asked whether Stevens had her e-mail, and Clinton answered that she did not believe he did, to a smiling Westmoreland; the clear implication was that Clinton was lying about really being friends with Stevens, and that if they really were, and that if she really cared, Stevens would have had her e-mail. Quite an insulting, baseless absurdity, given that Clinton has already explained she did not conduct her business primarily through e-mail. Yet in the mind of Westmoreland, one can imagine a dramatic scene in which Clinton tearfully says goodbye to her dear friend Chris Stevens, gives him a warm embrace, and then after he turns to go, clasps his forearm with her hand, and says, heavy with emotion, “Chris, if you need anything, anything at all, e-mail me! Here is my e-mail!” Except this cartoon fantasy is not at all how Cabinet and senior level officials interact with each other in Executive Branch agencies; e-mail is for friends like Blumenthal to reach another friend in an unofficial capacity, to discuss event planning, for tech support, for coordination; e-mail is not where serious policies are made, and it is most certainly not the norm for a sitting ambassador to use an e-mail channel directly to the Secretary of State for official requests concerning security measures and personnel. That Westmoreland smugly and clearly felt he “nailed” Clinton by getting her to admit Stevens probably did not have her personal e-mail is primarily an advertisement of his own stunning ignorance of basic State Department culture and operating procedure. Clinton herself cannot hide her bemused expression as she explains to him that when she and Stevens had something important to discuss, it was in meetings and phone conversations, not over e-mail.
The next myopic grandstander for the Republicans was Rep. Pompeo, who wore a scowl of scorn throughout all of his interactions with Clinton and tried to suggest that the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Defense Review (QDDR), a major review of America’s diplomacy initiated by then-Sec. Clinton, only having two pages on diplomatic security out of over 270 means that it was not important to Clinton. But once again, here, and this is common theme with Republicans these days, a stunning ignorance of what the QDDR is was displayed here; the document is intended to lay out the global strategy for both the State Department and USAID; were this Apple publicizing its global business strategy, how much of such a document would be devoted to talking about specific physical security procedures for Apple facilities? The idea of the departed Steve Jobs laying out his vision for Apple at a major company meetings and talking about gates, guards, security cameras, and locks at such meetings is absurd, just as is Pomepo’s purpose in bringing up the QDDR.
After, like his predecessors, he continued to hammer Clinton with the idea that somehow Clinton was responsible for the specific security approvals. He then adds another layer of inanity to complement his and his colleagues’ previous ones: he tries to fault Clinton for not firing someone after the Benghazi attacks. Here again, we are being treated to a stunning display of ignorance in Pompeo’s bombast: it is illegal to fire bureaucratic government workers except under very specific conditions—breach of duty—so Clinton did not have the personal discretion to fire these people because of the very regulations of the agency and government she works for. Even if those conditions are met, there is a complicated series of laws and regulations that govern how such a process can be carried out and offers individuals methods to challenge and protect themselves. In other words, Clinton can’t pick up a phone and say, Trump like, “You’re fired!,” to the vast majority of State Department employees. But Pompeo was not interested in the rules and procedures or even knowing about them, clearly; he was more interested in his own talking points, unfounded on anything resembling reality or a familiarity of the subjects he was tasked to investigate, a trait her shared with his Republican colleagues. Additionally, he talked about a meeting between State Department personnel and jihadists on the day of the attack before the attack. He had no information on which State Department employees were at this meeting, but still referred to them as “your team” when addressing Clinton, as if they had some sort of close personal tie to Clinton.
He also continued to go after Clinton on the Blumenthal e-mails, claiming that Blumenthal was her primary source on Benghzai, an outrageous claim that also displays a stunning level of ignorance and that has been repeatedly refuted as “factually not correct.” For one thing, Pompeo should know that actual intelligence of a sensitive nature does not go through e-mail like that, and that most of the information being conveyed to her about Benghazi that she could not read in a newspaper would come from diplomatic cables, classified briefings/documents, and phone calls on secure lines. In any event, After Pompeo’s waste of everyone’s time, Democratic Rep. Sanchez had a clip played from a major interview in which Pompeo’s absurd claims about Blumenthal were corrected on live national television by a reporter with an extensive background in covering the State Department.
The next Republican lightweight, Rep. Jordan, chose to traverse ground already well-covered that bordered on conspiracy theorist lunacy, one that centers on a truly myopic understanding of the world and the attacks. Like many others before him, Jordan tried to portray some confusion about mass, global protests that were inspired by an anti-Islamic videodenigrating the Muslim prophet Mohammed and its relationship to the attacks in Benghazi as some sort of deliberate cover-up on the part of the Obama Administration, in which then-Secretary Clinton was deeply involved and lied directly to the American people while telling what Jordan termed “the truth” to her own family and foreign leaders. Because of the very real confusion at the time surrounding these incidents and some very confused and sloppy messaging on the part of the Obama Administration, this line of attack has been proved to resonate among the uninformed particularly well, especially among partisans and conspiracy theorists for whom there is no such thing as sloppiness or honest mistakes in communication.
Specifically, in the days before the Benghazi attack, the American produced-and-originated video that heavily mocks Mohammed was uploaded to YouTube in versions accessible to Arabic speakers. The videos generated outrage and mass protests throughout the world on the part of Muslims, especially in Muslim countries. Both Tunisia and Egypt, to Libya’s northwest and east, respectively experienced massive and violent protests on September 11th, 2012, that required the intervention of Tunisian and Egyptian security forces in order to save American lives. Attacks and violent protests were hardly limited to these two countries either. As was made clear throughout the hearing, the U.S. only had a minimal presence in Benghazi at the time, though this presence included Amb. Stevens and his small security team. Still, the lack of American personnel means there was very little information coming in directly from U.S. personnel and a lot confusion resulted when things began to go badly on September 11th, 2012.
Now, here is where things get complicated: in some countries, there were protests that turned violent, without the violence being part of any planned attack. In the situation in Benghazi, the attacks were premeditated and planned, and not part of any protests that became violent spontaneously, though some people seemed to have joined the attack and/or looted spontaneously.
With very little information coming in and widespread outrage in the Muslim world over the video, it was a perfectly reasonable assumption that the violence in Benghazi was related to the video (and, I will soon explain, that still has not been disproven). At this point in time, senior officials at the time like Sec. Clinton, Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, President Obama, various press officials for the White House and various agencies were having to respond to unfolding events around the world, all of which either already had or potentially could have put American lives and facilities in danger. And without detailed knowledge of what was going on, the whole series of global and often deadly incidents looked very much to be in reaction to the video. The day of the attack, Clinton released a press statement and Rep. Jordan chose to focus on one sentence of that statement as grounds for his claim that Clinton lied and was telling the American people that the attack was all because of the video: “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet,” read her statement.
Read, and reread, because Jordan’s claim is so stupendous as to boggle the mind: Clinton is clearly mentioning that some were using the videos as an excuse to commit violence; in no way is she justifying the violence, in no way is she saying “I have sought to justify,” in no way is she saying this video is the only explanation or motive. Clinton asked to and then read more of her statement before the Committee, including a line which Jordan had conveniently chosen to not read, one three sentences after the line he did read: “But let me be clear, there is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.” Jordan then focuses on two conversations and an e-mail, two conversations that Clinton had the evening of the attack, one with the President of Libya, one with the Prime Minister of Egypt, where she discussed that it was an attack by a terrorist group and not simply a protest gone spontaneously violent; she also noted in an e-mail to her family that evening that it was a terrorist attack. In the time between her initial statement and these conversations and e-mail, a terrorist group had claimed responsibility (and later retracted) so Clinton’s story evolved with the information she had at the time. U.S. official also did not receive video of the incident until September 18th, the first time it became clear to them that there were no protests involved in the attacks in Benghazi.
However, this should be made clear: distinguishing between protests against the video that became spontaneously violent and premeditated attacks does not mean that the premeditated attacks were not also inspired by the video, in part or fully. But the way the Republicans seize on this, in their worldview is has to be either one or the other, and if this distinction is not rigidly made, it is evidence of a cover-up and outright lying. Such a mentality reduces terrorism and its motives to a cartoon and clear-cut understanding of a very complex phenomenon with very complex reasons, motivations, and actors involved. Jordan and his colleague’s view that linking the premeditated attack in Benghazi to the video in any way amounts to willful lying shows them to be grossly unfit to analyze anything involving foreign policy or terrorism. One can hope voters will notice this, too. In any event, when one of the leaders of the attack was apprehended almost two years later by the U.S. military, he told his interrogators that the video was very much a motivation for the attack, that the attack was a response to the video. This, of course, Jordan does not mention.
Picking up where his colleagues left off and telling the world absolutely nothing new, Chairman Gowdy focused his first session (but hardly stopped there) exclusively on the Blumenthal-Clinton e-mail exchange. Clinton had said they were unsolicited in general, but that she did respond to some and occasionally asked for more. Gowdy, an experienced prosecutor, played on the fact that Clinton had actually responded to and asked sometimes for more information to try to damage Clinton’s credibility, to make her look like a liar since she had used the word unsolicited but had actually engaged him some of the time. Really, he spent his entire first session playing word games. Clinton easily made clear that it was both quite possible to receive unsolicited e-mails from a source in general, but to occasionally engage and respond while still characterizing the body of e-mails as “unsolicited.” Gowdy utterly failed to make anything out of “unsolicited” or to actually even discuss anything specifically related to Benghazi. And he is the Chairman of the Committee…
Thus ended the first of many, many rounds of questioning that were to last some eleven hours including breaks. After the first round of questioning, Democrats and Republicans blew up at each other, complete with interrupting and shouting in what is exceedingly rare behavior during a Congressional hearing. Democrats complained about the focus on Clinton’s e-mails and Blumenthal at the expense of actual issues related to Benghazi, and claimed that Blumenthal’s own testimony before the Committee contradicted Republican assertions and thus demanded its release, noting that only his e-mails and Clinton’s had been released but that his testimony was behind closed doors. When the second session began, a vote to release Blumenthal’s closed-door session into the public record was defeated in a party-line vote, with all five Democrats voting to release the information, and all seven Republicans voting against the release.
The shouting match, and subsequent partisan vote, served a good point of symbolism for the entire proceedings.
More (and More) of the Same and Going Nowhere
Over the many subsequent hours of testimony, the Republicans stayed on their favorite topics: Clinton’s e-mails, Blumenthal and his e-mails to Clinton (what Gowdy unprofessionally termed “drivel”), the idea that Clinton was personally responsible for the specific security arrangements in Benghazi, the idea that Clinton did not care about safety of Stevens and other personnel, the “issue” of the video in relation to the Administration’s sloppy early attempts to explain the Benghazi attacks, and the idea that the whole Libya policy was designed by Clinton as a vehicle of self-promotion. Most tediously, the Republicans not only unproductively repeated the statements and questions of their Republican colleagues as if they not already been made (and discredited/refuted already), the individual Republicans even often repeated their own statements and lines of questioning rather pointlessly, in ways that revealed nothing new; not only could they not coordinate effectively among themselves, but they also failed to mentally do so within their own heads. All throughout, their “evidence” amounted to little more than splitting hairs in regards to sets of one or several e-mails out of tens of thousands or presenting information devoid of context that did not involve Clinton or her specific scope of action (for example, presenting data on security requests even though Clinton did not personally handle those, a fact repeated many times but, sadly, to no effect).
The ensuing sessions were simply more of the same in either content or style or both. Pompeo later read from an ARB from 1998 that stated “first and foremost, the Secretary should take a personal and active role in carrying out the responsibility — ensuring the security of the U.S. diplomatic personnel abroad” in an effort to portray Clinton as negligent for not having personally taken control of the details of security specification, procedures, and personnel at American diplomatic facilities around the world, but it took Democratic Rep. Schiff to read from the rest of that section, which stated that “in the process, the Secretary should re-examine the present organizational structure, with the objective of assuring that a single high-ranking officer is accountable for all protective security matters and has the authority necessary to coordinate on the secretary’s behalf.” Pompeo’s selectivity, manipulation of the facts, and dishonest partisanship could not be more apparent, but Pompeo and other Republicans showed no sense of shame throughout the proceedings.
Occasionally, a Republican might actually bring up something that had not been beaten repeatedly like a dead horse. Most notably, Martha Roby brought up the issue of when, specifically, Clinton spoke to the survivors of the attack and where she physically was the night of the attack. This continued the despicable “You didn’t care!” motif and truly made the questioners appear despicable, Roby doing her part here. Roby tried to act as if Clinton not personally speaking to/meeting the survivors right after the attacks and going home the night of the attack were indicative of some sort of dereliction or uncaring approach. She did, in fact, meet with them shortly after they returned to the U.S. and the State Department. CIA Director David Petraeus also went home that night and monitored the situation from home, just like Clinton, who stayed up all night and operated from a skiff complete with secure lines built into her house. But this was not enough for Roby, who badgered Clinton with insulting questions designed to make it look as if Clinton could care less about her personnel and went home for a full night’s sleep the night of the attack, a portrayal that is nothing more than fantasy serving partisan politics.
In contrast, the Democrats seemed like schoolyard teachers (appropriately) defending Clinton against a gang of bullies. They were generally very measured, mature, and calm, but even they became exasperated and lost patience and some self-control, most notably Elijah Cummings, the Ranking Member (leader of the minority side in the Committee). Even a big chunk of the conservative media saw that Clinton had performed well and that the Committee’s Republicans came off looking terrible. The differences between the two parties could not have been starker, and the fact that this “hearing” was a farce was on display for all to see.
The Big Picture
In the end, the highly public and covered proceedings succeeding in highlighting the Republicans’ mean-spiritedness, ignorance, myopia, willingness to mislead and be selective in their presentation, their pathological hatred of Clinton, their blind rage and irrational approach to an issue of deadly seriousness, their obsession and need to make her personally responsible for the deaths of four Americans, and their utter contempt for decorum and respectful behavior, while at the same time highlighting Clinton’s best qualities: her patience and endurance, her command of the facts, her ability to discuss just about anything in detail, her distinguished career as a diplomat, her statesmanship, her willingness to be tough when her questioners crossed a line, her quiet but visible emotion when she was insulted beyond any degree of propriety, her willingness to sick up for committed public servants, and her grace under fire. Let Donald Trump or Dr. Ben Carson, or a party that set up such a sham investigation, compete with that.
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