About two hours into Hillary Clinton’s much-awaited appearance before the House select committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, the boredom and outrage cracked through the facade. She began to shrug her shoulders, lean her chin on her hand, and raise her eyes to the point of rolling them.
She let her exasperation show every time she uttered the words “previously,” “again,” and “as I said before.”
By the time the morning session ended, the hearings had devolved into the partisan exercise that many had predicted.
But at least at first, the Republican chairman of the panel, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, seemed to take pains to avoid the impression that the investigation’s real purpose was to bring down the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, as his colleague Kevin McCarthy famously gaffed.
So Gowdy was solicitous of the former secretary of state, letting her take the oath behind closed doors rather than having to raise her right hand in public like a tobacco company executive.
For a short while, there even were legitimate inquiries about the Obama administration’s Libya policy, Clinton’s central role in deposing the dictator Moammar Gadhafi and the disintegration of the country.
And the Democrats on the committee played their assigned roles, asking questions that allowed Clinton to express her sadness at the death of four Americans – including Ambassador Christopher Stevens – in the terrorist attack on the Benghazi consulate in 2012.
Things started to turn sour, however, when the focus became the infamous e-mails and the somewhat murky role in Libya of Clinton’s friend and informal adviser Sidney Blumenthal.
That was when any last pretense of nonpartisanship went out the window. The morning ended in a fight as the Democrat Elijah Cummings of Maryland demanded that Gowdy release the full transcripts of the committee’s interviews with Blumenthal.
As the afternoon session got underway, Gowdy indulged in a show trial, calling for a vote on whether to make the transcripts public. With a Republican majority, the vote was no.
The Republicans on the committee must have eaten crow at lunch and decided what the heck, let’s go for broke. The afternoon’s questions were almost all unabashedly political. One Republican, for example, asked whether a State Department memo about Libya wasn’t really an effort by Clinton to get all the credit for deposing the dictator.
It was a case of the kettle and the teapot: Many on the committee seemed intent upon landing the blow that would get them all the credit for wounding the witness. By 4 p.m., as the committee went to the floor for a roll call vote, the chances of that looked very small. Some might have wanted to keep on walking.
Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist.