Politics & Policy

The House Select Committee on Benghazi, Holding Government Officials Accountable

The U.S. consulate compound in Benghazi, two days after the attack. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty)

When the dust kicked up in the House-speakership race has settled, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s artless comment about the House Select Committee on Benghazi promises to cause further headaches for Republicans. This week, House Democrats proposed a measure to abolish the committee; and although it was tabled in a partisan vote, they are sure to continue exploiting McCarthy’s misstep in order to derail the investigation. That would be a victory for partisan bullying — and a defeat for the nonpartisan cause of government accountability.

It is worth recalling the facts: On September 11, 2012, the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked by al-Qaeda-linked Islamic jihadists. They easily overran the inadequately secured diplomatic compound and murdered four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, the first U.S. ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1979. The first response of the Obama administration was to blame — despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary — an anti-Islam video, the maker of which, an Egyptian Copt living in California, was suddenly arrested for violating his parole. The House Select Committee on Benghazi was formed in May 2014 “to conduct a full and complete investigation” into the policies, decisions, and activities that contributed to and followed the attack.

RELATED: Hillary’s Dangerous Negligence over Benghazi, Again

To date, relevant questions about those activities remain unanswered. Why, in the months preceding the attacks, while other nations were rapidly withdrawing diplomatic personnel, were U.S. officials left in Benghazi? Why were multiple requests for increased security rejected by the State Department? On the evening of the attacks, why were available regional military forces not deployed? Who at the White House ordered the Sunday-show talking points of United Nations ambassador Susan Rice to be altered? Why was Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton’s top aide at Foggy Bottom, permitted to alter the State Department’s ostensibly independent accountability-review-board report on Benghazi?

#share#That last fact was uncovered by the Select Committee just last month and is one of several reasons to reject Democrats’ claims that the Select Committee is merely retreading territory covered by several previous congressional investigations. In fact, the committee has examined thousands of original documents and interviewed dozens of new witnesses, and with good reason: Largely from the aggressive work of government watchdog Judicial Watch, it is now known that the Clinton State Department withheld thousands of documents from investigators, among them hundreds of classified messages, many of them Benghazi-related. According to a letter from committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.) to ranking member Elijah Cummings (D., Md.), the committee is preparing to release hundreds of e-mails showing that longtime Clinton confidante Sidney Blumenthal was pushing U.S. intervention in Libya to forward his own private business interests, and that he supplied Clinton with the name of a CIA source —  classified information for sure — which she then forwarded to an underling. For a former official who has spent the last three years withholding this sort of sensitive information from investigators to then claim that those investigations showed no wrongdoing is rich, even for a Clinton.

RELATED: Hillary Clinton’s Top Aides Knew from First Minutes that Benghazi Was a Terrorist Attack

The political ramifications — chief among them that Hillary Clinton is reflexively associated with words such as “untrustworthy” and “dishonest” — are a side effect of, not a justification for, the Select Committee. Clinton has not even appeared before the committee, and committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.) has been clear that his authority is limited. When Republicans called on him to seize Clinton’s illicit private server, he noted that it was outside his authority to do so.

#related#That does not mean that Gowdy’s investigation has been ideal. As a former prosecutor, Gowdy knows how to conduct an inquiry. But his prosecutorial inclination to operate behind closed doors has fueled rumors of partisan targeting. At issue are public wrongs; they ought to be investigated publicly. Some private hearings will be necessary, but Gowdy should opt to hold as many hearings as possible in public. It will aid transparency, and undermine Democrats’ accusations to the contrary. Hillary Clinton’s deposition, scheduled for October 22 and open to the public, is a good start.

The Obama administration, with the help of congressional allies, has managed to avoid taking responsibility for an astonishing panoply of failures, from the incompetence of its Department of Veteran Affairs to its Fast and Furious debacle to the brazen lawlessness of its IRS. Redoubled accusations of partisanship should not stop Republicans from working to hold accountable any government officials who failed to do their duty to our men in Libya. 

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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