The House Select Committee on Benghazi will take center stage today when Hillary Clinton testifies. As the former dean of the House of the Representatives and the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, I held more oversight hearings in the last 50 years than any other House member, and fundamental fairness and a search for the facts were always the foundation of our inquiries. Unfortunately, the Select Committee is failing on both counts.
Last week, Republican Rep. Richard Hanna conceded that the investigation was “designed to go after … an individual, Hillary Clinton.” Earlier in the month, Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy boasted about how the Select Committee had driven down Clinton’s poll numbers. Now, a former member of the Republican committee staff says he was fired for protesting the investigation’s partisanship.
The committee chairman, Trey Gowdy , maintains his colleagues and staff are wrong.
Gowdy claims there are unanswered questions about what happened in Benghazi. But more congressional reports have been written about Benghazi than the combined total of all the congressional reports on the 9/11 attack, the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the Oklahoma City bombing, the U.S.S. Cole bombing, and the Boston Marathon bombing.
In May, Gowdy promised that “serious investigations do not leak information or make selective releases of information without full and proper context.” Since then, the papers have been full of stories from “GOP sources.”
At the end of 2014, Gowdy laid out his investigative plan. There would be public hearings with the secretary of Defense, the deputy director of the CIA, and the U.N. ambassador and staff interviews with key Defense, intelligence, and White House officials. The committee had a three-part strategy: scrutinize whether there was adequate security at the Benghazi compound prior to the attack, examine what happened during the attack, and evaluate how the agencies responded after the attack.
According to one of Gowdy’s own investigators, Major Bradley Podliska, the committee’s focus narrowed to “hyper-focus on Hillary Clinton.” In recent months, the committee has interviewed nine current or former Clinton campaign staffers. When Sidney Blumenthal, who was not even a government employee, was interviewed in June, he was asked 160 questions about his relationship and emails with Clinton and fewer than 20 questions about the Benghazi attacks.
Investigations can reveal mistakes and wrongdoing, identify solutions, and lead to reforms. But that’s what the previous seven congressional investigations and the nonpartisan Accountability Review Board convened by the State Department have done. The State Department has responded by implementing the recommendations identified by the Accountability Review Board, with 25 of the 29 recommendations already completed and the others underway. Ironically, it is in Congress where several of the board’s legislative recommendations remain stalled.
The Benghazi Select Committee has spent over $4.5 million, held only three public hearings, created misleading impressions through selective leaks, and is being sued by a member of its own staff. Its mission has mutated into tarnishing the reputation of the Democratic presidential front-runner.
Eighteen years ago, the Washington Post described another high-profile congressional investigation into the Clintons as “its own cartoon, a joke and a deserved embarrassment.”
Sadly, the same words could be used again today.
John Dingell represented Michigan as a Democrat from 1955 to 2014.