In assessing the Benghazi select committee headed up by Chairman Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.), there are two possibilities, and they are not mutually exclusive: (1) The committee is just a Potemkin probe erected by the Republican establishment to get restive conservatives to pipe down, and (2) the committee is incompetent.
The panel, of course, was commissioned by the Republican-controlled House to investigate the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2012, attack in which al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists killed Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans — information-management officer Sean Smith and two former Navy SEALs, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, contract employees whose valor saved dozens of lives during the siege.
The select committee’s ten sleepy months of operation have not warranted much attention — except to observe its lethargy. But questions about it arise thanks to the newly erupted Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal. Mostly, it is one question: Why is the scandal newly erupted?
The Benghazi massacre was the lowlight of Mrs. Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. Suddenly this week, the public was informed, for the first time, that during those four tumultuous years, she conducted State Department business through a private e-mail system designed to evade government record-keeping requirements. The scheme is redolent of Clintonian hypocrisy: Even while Mrs. Clinton was exclusively using personal e-mail, she admonished State Department personnel that doing so was prohibited as a major security breach, and she forced the resignation of the U.S. ambassador to Kenya for, among other things, using private e-mail for public business. The scheme’s revelation has been redolent of tendentious Clintonian parsing: Suspicions that Mrs. Clinton violated not only e-mail retention regulations but also criminal laws are being countered by lawyerly dilations on the definition of a “government record.”
And who wouldn’t want to relive That Nineties Show?
In Washington’s best headline-grabbing fashion, Chairman Gowdy leaped on the latest Clinton scandal to announce that his Benghazi committee, on Wednesday, issued subpoenas for all of Clinton’s communications related to Libya. On the same day, the committee subpoenaed the State Department “for other individuals who have information pertinent to the investigation,” and issued “preservation letters” to telecom firms directing them to retain potentially relevant documents.
What on earth took them so long?
In announcing the new subpoenas, Gowdy, a highly experienced prosecutor with a real courtroom flair, offered his signature biting barbs that sweep conservatives off their feet. Mrs. Clinton “did not use personal email in addition to government e-mail,” he inveighed, “she used personal e-mail in lieu of government e-mail.” He authoritatively explained that she had more than one private e-mail account. He scalded the State Department for its inability to account for Clinton’s communications because they neither have them nor control access to them — only Clinton does.
Just the fiery outrage we’ve come to expect from Congressman Gowdy. But for all the big wind, there never seems to be much rain.
Speaking of which, Gowdy let something else slip while unburdening himself to Politico: he and his committee have known since last summer that Mrs. Clinton conducted business by private e-mail.
So what you’re just finding out now, Gowdy has known for at least six months. So what did he do about it? According to Politico, “He said the committee has worked with Clinton advisers and the department to gain access to documents relating to the Benghazi attacks.”
Fabulous! Gowdy just got finished railing about how Clinton used private e-mail precisely to avoid the government-mandated paper trail. So what’s he been doing about it for six months? Discussing the matter with Clinton’s loyal staffers — i.e., people who helped her carry out the scheme — and with the State Department — i.e., the people he just got done telling you have neither the relevant e-mails nor access to them.
That’s it: no subpoenas, no hearings, no nothing. Just as Mrs. Clinton did not turn over any of her private e-mails until the State Department finally asked for them, Gowdy, by his own account, did not issue a subpoena to address a scandal he has long known about until the scandal became public.
That in itself is a scandal.
Mrs. Clinton is one of the two central figures — the president being the other — in the Benghazi investigation. The administration failed to take any meaningful action to attempt the rescue of Americans under a terrorist siege. All indications are that the White House and the Defense Department deferred — abdicated is probably a better word — to the State Department in what became the administration’s non-response.
But that’s not the half of it. Unanswered questions abound:
‐ What mission was so important to Obama and Clinton that it was worth assigning American personnel to work in Benghazi, a notorious hotbed of anti-American jihadism?
‐ Was the United States involved in facilitating the transfer of arms from jihadists in Libya to jihadists in Syria?
‐ Why were Americans kept in Benghazi despite months of terrorist attacks on the U.S. facilities and other Western targets?
‐ Why during those months, when other nations had the good sense to withdraw their forces because Benghazi was too dangerous, did the Obama administration not only maintain ours there but also reduce security?
‐ Why, in particular, did Secretary Clinton turn a deaf ear to Ambassador Stevens’s personal pleas for more protection?
‐ Why, in light of the history of attacks and the ratcheting up of terrorist threats on the eve of the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, were military assets not moved closer to hot spots like Benghazi and placed on high alert?
‐ Why in the aftermath of the terrorist attack did the administration concoct for public consumption a fraudulent story framing the siege as a “spontaneous protest” over an anti-Muslim video, rather than an attack by jihadist terrorists?
‐ Why, when it is now clear that the State Department knew from the first moments of the siege that a terrorist attack was underway, and knew within the first hours that the local al-Qaeda affiliate was claiming credit, did Secretary Clinton put out a press statement blaming the video?
‐ What, if any, communications did Secretary Clinton have with her top staff — some of whom may also have been using the Clinton private e-mail system — in the lead-up to the statement Clinton issued that night?
‐ What communications did Mrs. Clinton have with the White House — including with President Obama, with whom, according to her congressional testimony, she spoke on the phone minutes before the statement blaming the video was issued?
‐ What was President Obama doing during the hours of the attack, and why did the White House first deny that he had spoken with any top cabinet officials before changing its story after Mrs. Clinton testified?
‐ Why did Mrs. Clinton tell the father of one of our fallen SEALs that the administration was going to “get” the man they were blaming for the attack — no, not the head of al-Qaeda, but the producer of the completely irrelevant anti-Muslim video?
‐ What administration officials were involved in the Justice Department’s shameful S.W.A.T.-style arrest and prosecution of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the video producer?
It has been ten months since the Benghazi select committee was appointed. We have no answers.
When Trey Gowdy took this high-profile assignment, he vowed to conduct it with energetic prosecutorial rigor. That has been the excuse for the paucity of public hearings over the last ten months: they are too busy meticulously scrutinizing documents and lining up witnesses to conduct hearings. Indeed, the few short hearings the committee has held focused on the recommendations of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB) investigation. Not only was that an utter waste of time in light of how discredited the ARB report is; the committee also steered clear of evidence that Mrs. Clinton’s top aides obstructed the ARB by withholding documents — evidence that emerged just as the committee held its long-awaited first hearing . . . on the ARB.
Now we learn that, for six months, they’ve known about the Clinton e-mail scheme — a scheme patently intended to erase the paper trails they tell us they’re so carefully tracing behind the scenes. Yet they never made a peep about it. They didn’t issue a subpoena, didn’t alert the telecoms to preserve records, and apparently relied on the good will of the people they are investigating to safeguard the damning evidence.
As some of us have contended for some time, there is abundant reason to fear that Republicans do not want to get to the bottom of Benghazi. GOP congressional leaders were major supporters of Obama’s disastrous decision to ditch our counterterrorism alliance with Qaddafi and empower jihadists to oust him. Some of those jihadists were complicit in the Benghazi attack — and they’ve since turned Libya into a failed state in which both al-Qaeda and ISIS now have footholds. Furthermore, if there was a covert operation to help move arms from Libya to the Syrian “rebels” — some of whom worked with al-Qaeda, others of whom became ISIS — it is a near certainty that top congressional Republicans were in the loop when it was approved.
To listen to what Trey Gowdy says is to be confident that these fears are baseless, that his committee will relentlessly pursue the truth wherever it leads.
To watch what Trey Gowdy does, which doesn’t seem to be much, is to worry.