The Benghazi Massacre — specifically, the commander-in-chief’s derelictions of duty and his administration’s fraudulent depiction of the terrorist attack in the 2012 campaign stretch — was the subject of my weekend column, as well as a column late last week after newly revealed e-mails corroborated what several of us have been arguing ever since four Americans were killed in the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack: “Blame the Video” was an Obama administration-crafted lie. It now looks like House speaker John Boehner will finally do what he should have done at least a year and a half ago: Appoint a select committee with subpoena power to get to the bottom of what happened.
Here at NRO, the editors do a great job today of explaining why Benghazi matters. Steve Hayes is on the case again at TWS unwinding the administration’s misrepresentations. In addition, Jed Babbin makes all the right points today at TAS regarding how the committee should be staffed, what its mandate ought to be, and how it should proceed.
I’d be delighted if Representative Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.) were chosen to head the committee because he is experienced and competent, and because he has been highly engaged and effective in pursuing the truth despite the severe limitations of the congressional committee format that is so ill-suited to investigations of this kind. But, as Jed urges, neither Representative Gowdy nor anyone else should accept the assignment without assurances of the committee’s ability to conduct an investigation that follows the facts wherever they go and for however long it takes to get through the formidable Obama stonewall. A proper select committee is vital; a poorly conceived select committee would be worse than what we have now.
On that score, I am flattered beyond words that people for whom I have great respect — particularly Hugh Hewitt and Istanpundit’s Randy Barnett — have suggested that I’d be a good choice as the committee’s special counsel. Yet, tempting as the prospect seems, I think it would be a mistake to pick me or someone like me — specifically, a commentator who has publicly drawn conclusions based on the already-known facts.
Dereliction of duty and fraud on the nation are not just serious matters; they are impeachable offenses, and I’ve argued for many months that the president and his underlings are guilty of both. As I mentioned in the weekend column, I am also about to publish a book (called Faithless Execution) on presidential lawlessness in which Benghazi is prominently featured. If, as I assume, the ethical standard of avoiding even “the appearance of impropriety” should be applied to the choice of a lawyer with prosecutorial experience to lead the investigation, it would be as much a mistake on my part to accept such an appointment as it would be for it to be offered to me. (Recall how critical many of us, myself included, have been of the Obama Justice Department’s appointment of an Obama and Democratic-party donor to lead an investigation into whether the IRS harassed conservative groups for the benefit of the Obama administration and the Democratic party.)
Obama partisans (unfortunately, that appears to include most Democrats) cannot fight Benghazi on the facts. On Friday, I happened to hear Bob Beckel, one of the smarter Democrat political operatives, address (beginning around the 4:30 mark of the video) the latest Benghazi developments on Fox’s The Five. His essential point was (for the most part, I’m summarizing, not quoting him), “Yes, the administration misled the public in the run-up to the election, but so what? Who cares? All administrations do that sort of thing so Republicans are blowing this out of proportion for political reasons.” If this is all they’ve got, the administration is in huge trouble. That is not close to an answer to the questions that have been raised.
Benghazi is not an ordinary scandal — it involves an act of war in which our ambassador, the representative of the United States in Libya, was murdered (along with three other Americans) under circumstances where security was appallingly inadequate for political reasons, and where the administration did not just lie about what happened but actually trumped up a prosecution that violated the First Amendment in order to bolster the lie.
Only in the Manhattan-Beltway corridor do people think Benghazi is a GOP concern driven by 2016 political considerations. As noted above, it is Republican leadership that has dragged its feet on appointing a select committee; and that is after the GOP presidential candidate foolishly dropped Benghazi as an issue at the time it happened. The scandal lives only because Americans are outraged by it. To most of us, it has to do with accountability and little or nothing to do with 2016 politics. Personally, I doubt Hillary Clinton is going to run for president, and if she does run, I think she’ll be even less appealing than in 2008, when she was stronger but Democrats rejected her. The reason for pursuing Benghazi is not to remind people of Mrs. Clinton’s disgraceful performance; it is to establish how and why our people were killed in order to reverse the government policies that led to the empowerment of Islamic supremacists; it is to hold accountable the government officials who designed those policies and then abused their power in covering up the foreseeable results.
I keep hoping that as the fraud continues to melt away and the indefensible facts of Benghazi become clearer, some Democrats are going to join other Americans in demanding answers. Until that happens in meaningful numbers, it is now obvious that the Democratic strategy is to refuse to participate in the Benghazi inquiry (while the administration obstructs it from the inside), and to rely on the media’s help in marginalizing the select committee exercise as partisan hackery. (This from the people who spent years telling you Valerie Plame was a scandal of epic proportion.)
People like Trey Gowdy will need to tune out the noise and keep digging for the facts. From a strategic standpoint, the worst thing the select committee could do would be to play into the hands of partisan Democrats by appointing a special counsel who could be framed politically as an Obama critic using investigative powers not to search for the truth but to support conclusions he’s already drawn.
I was a tough prosecutor but a fair one. If I were the special counsel, I’d do my best to let the chips fall where they may even if it ended up showing that I’d been wrong about things. But truly being fair means you never get to that point: You don’t take an assignment that might disserve the assignment; you don’t take an assignment under circumstances where fair-minded people could be persuaded to wonder whether you’re pursuing the truth or pursuing your own agenda.
The facts of Benghazi are damning for the administration. The select committee should choose one of the dozens of excellent, ethical former prosecutors who have not publicly stated conclusive views on Benghazi. That would make the facts sing for themselves rather than create a target for the partisan demagoguery that could drown them out.