How to do Benghazi hearings right

05/09/2014 7:50 PM

05/09/2014 7:52 PM

The Democrats are portraying the not-yet-even constituted House Select Committee on Benghazi as nothing but a partisan exercise. They are even considering boycotting the hearings to delegitimize them.

Fine. All that matters is whether the committee produces new, important facts. If it does, it will be impossible to ignore.

We’ve already seen what a single piece of new evidence can do in reviving interest in a story that many (including me) thought the administration had successfully stonewalled. The “PREP CALL with Susan Rice” email from Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, was withheld eight months until revealed by court order. It advises the U.N. ambassador to focus on an anti-Islam Internet video, thus contradicting the perennial White House claim that Rice’s blame-the-video five-show fable came just from intelligence community talking points.

The select committee will be headed by Rep. Trey Gowdy, a skilled 16-year prosecutor. He needs to keep the hearings clean and strictly fact-oriented. Questions only, no speechifying.

The areas of inquiry are obvious. They are three: before, during and after.

Before:

Where and to what extent was there dereliction of duty as memos, urgent pleas and mounting evidence of danger were ignored and the U.S. ambassador allowed to enter a deathtrap?

During:

What happened during the eight hours of the Benghazi attack? Where were the commander in chief and Hillary Clinton, the responsible Cabinet secretary? What did they do?

The White House acts as if these are, alternatively, either state secrets or of no importance.

For President Obama, we have three data points. At 5 p.m. EDT, he is briefed on the attack by the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

At around 8 p.m., Obama spends an hour on the phone with Benjamin Netanyahu to tamp down a breaking, politically injurious story that Obama had snubbed the Israeli prime minister. So the White House is engaged in campaign damage control quite literally in the middle of the Benghazi events. We’ve just learned that Obama was not in the Situation Room that night. Then where, doing what?

We know, finally, that at 10 p.m. Obama called Clinton to get an update. What did they discuss, decide, order?

A half-hour later, State issued a statement deploring the video, setting the premise for the video excuse. Were Obama and Clinton working on a cover story – even before Glen Doherty had joined Tyrone Woods on the roof of the CIA annex where they were to die minutes later?

Yes, that’s speculation. Well, then, give us facts.

After:

We now know the White House was pushing the “video made them do it” cover-up, lest the blame be placed on administration policy. Who was involved in that decision, obviously designed to protect a president campaigning that al-Qaida was “on the run”?

The country deserves the truth. They’ll get it if the GOP can keep the proceedings clean, factual and dispassionate.

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