The terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which took the lives of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, on September 11, 2012, was a horrible tragedy. Shamelessly, however, congressional Republicans have made it into a travesty, a grubby fundraising contrivance to exploit the deaths of patriots serving their country. Republicans have pursued an ongoing political spectacle, a faux blame-game undertaking that has no interest in finding the truth—only the narrow goal of scoring political points to raise money. And now they are at it again.
On May 8, 2014, Speaker of the House John Boehner, called on House Republicans to open a new investigation of the 2012 Benghazi attack. For all practical purposes the new inquiry was approved by a straight partisan vote: 232 to 186, with seven weak-kneed Democrats joining the Republican majority to support the new inquiry.
When they started the first Benghazi investigation over a year ago, I thought they were looking to embarrass the Obama Administration. I wrote that their effort to create a scandal where no scandal existed would be difficult to sustain, explaining that the “legs on this so-called scandal” had been “buckling and wobbling for months.” I figured the GOP would soon move on. What I did not realize was Benghazi had resonated with Republican followers, who loved the (often bogus) attacks on the Obama Administration over its handling of Benghazi. The investigations were prompting Republicans to send money to express their approval of such activities. So Republican leaders are at again and doubling down.
Findings of Prior Benghazi Inquiries Are Being Ignored
Before Speaker Boehner created the newest Benghazi panel, according to the Associated Press: “Benghazi has produced thirteen public hearings, the release of 25,000 pages of documents and 50 separate briefings.” There have been seven prior Benghazi investigations. Needless to say, these hearings, trips to Libya and endless congressional briefings have cost the government—more to the point, American taxpayers about whom Republicans often pretend to have such great concern—untold millions of dollars.
This new investigation is being undertaken on the thinnest of reasons. The New York Times noted that notwithstanding all the prior inquiries, Republicans want the new investigation because “after the White House was forced to release a new email that shows that administration officials tried to shape the way Susan E. Rice, then the ambassador to the United Nations, discussed the attack on several Sunday morning news programs, when she said the chaos in the Middle East at the time may have prompted the deadly attack.”
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who made a similar but unsuccessful effort in the Senate to either join the new House inquiry, or launch a separate Senate investigation, nicely demonstrated the purely partisan superciliousness of these undertakings. Cruz said what he really wanted to know, in addition to the answers to series of questions that have already been answered repeatedly in prior investigations, the answers to such pressing questions as: “Did President Obama sleep the night of September 11, 2012 [the night of the Benghazi attack]? Did Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton [sleep]?” Ted Cruz has given a bad name to being a former Supreme Court law clerk with his frivolous Tea Party politics.
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen summed up this new Republican investigation nicely: “So what is Benghazi? Beats me, I am tempted to say. But I recognize it as a transparent Republican attempt to provide the party’s base with grist for its fantasy mill. Is it possible the Obama administration fudged the nature of the attack, refusing to apply the term ‘terrorist’? Yes, of course. Did the White House spinmeisters put their hands all over it? Could be. But is any of this so momentous that it has required 13 public hearings and now a select House committee that will delve and delve feverishly—for what?”
If anyone claims this new Benghazi investigation has any merit whatsoever, that is a person unfamiliar with the facts. Yet Republicans are doing what they do so well—engaging in totally useless partisan nonsense to satisfy that element of their party that has no sense of political propriety whatsoever. The true scandal of the Benghazi terror attack is how Republicans have abused their congressional power and used this incident to raise money.
Truth Be Damned, Benghazi Is a Money Machine
Rumors on Capitol Hill surrounding the new Benghazi inquiry—one of which made it into print—suggest that Speaker Boehner created this new select committee in the House because he wanted to get the Benghazi inquiry away from the irrepressibly irresponsible chairman of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, Darrell Issa (R-CA). According to the New York Times, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi noted that Issa is widely viewed as “damaged goods” for early and abusive investigation of Benghazi, which was handled with slightly less decorum and astuteness than a typical kindergarten-level kangaroo court.
While that might well be the case in trying to close down Issa, there are two other House committee chairs who did not want this new inquiry: Mike Rogers (R-MI), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, and Buck McKeon (R-CA), the chair of the House Armed Services Committee. Both Rogers and McKeon have conducted extensive Benghazi investigations, but unlike Darrell Issa who has a propensity for making baseless and false accusations, they found problems but nothing seriously wrong in the Benghazi tragedy. It should be noted that privately both Rogers and McKeon hold Issa’s work in minimal high esteem (as the diplomats put it).
Nonetheless, Issa has refused to back down, and plans his own continuing investigation of Benghazi, most recently taking the unprecedented step of issuing a subpoena for Secretary of State John Kerry. Issa could care less that Kerry has a few more important things to do than perform at Issas’s circus. Why is Issa continuing? For the same reason that Speaker Boehner is calling for another new panel to inquire. This is all about money.
The New Republic reported how Issa has effectively used his post as the head of the House Government Oversight committee to raise untold amounts of money because of his Benghazi investigations. While his colleagues might not think well of his style, Issa has written the playbook for the House leadership, and no sooner had Speaker Boehner announced formation of the new House select committee to launch a new Benghazi investigation, than National Republican Congressional Committee had sent a fundraising email claiming this investigation would not let anyone “get away,” and soliciting donation.
These fundraising efforts will only increase when the new select committee gets started. And it is unclear at this time how Democrats are going to deal with this latest investigation. It is also unclear how Republicans are going to reinvestigate this matter that has already been over investigated. To date, there is no evidence of serious misfeasance, malfeasance or nonfeasance by the real targets of the investigation: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama. Were there mistakes? For sure, but for Republicans the biggest mistake is that top officials were not mind-readers, and then when it happened, they didn’t admit to mistakes they had not made. Notwithstanding the difficultly of this subject already having been over-investigated, the new inquiry will proceed through the 2014 November election—unless it backfires sooner and Speaker Boehner closes it down. This abuse of power to raise money is not without risks for Republicans.
Potential Outcome of the New Benghazi Inquiry
Speaker Boehner has selected Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC) to chair the new twelve-member select committee (7 Republicans and 5 Democrats, if they decide to participate). Before taking this assignment, Gowdy was best known outside of South Carolina and Washington, DC for his hair. His hair styling, or lack thereof, has long been striking and distinctive. But Speaker Boehner is counting on Gowdy’s background and experience as a prosecutor, including six years as an assistant United States attorney. Gowdy has a reputation of being smart, savvy and ambitious. This assignment is his big chance to play on the national stage.
Gowdy has already shown caution. Shortly after his selection, and when appearing on Fox News, Gowdy thoughtlessly responded to how he might deal with the standard procedure of the executive branch unwilling to assist with the politics of the legislative branch. Gowdy said, “If an administration is slow-walking document production, I can’t end a trial simply because the defense won’t cooperate.” (Emphasis added.) But Gowdy quickly walked back his allusion to calling his Benghazi inquiry “a trial.” Gowdy, while clearly a GOP ideologue, is also obviously politically attuned. Most notably, Gowdy has also been smart in distancing himself from GOP efforts to use his inquiry as a fundraising tool, so he fully recognizes the perils of his new position. This will not stop the fundraising, because that is the reason for the inquiry, but it places the chairman above the sleaze.
This is a win-win, low risk political undertaking for Speaker Boehner. It is a pure political plum to his Tea Party caucus, which has been requesting such a select committee inquiry of Benghazi since shortly after the tragedy occurred. This concession to his crazies will buy him goodwill. He is trusting the ambitious Gowdy to keep it sane. If they turn up something new and embarrassing on the Obama Administration, great. If they the find nothing new, so what, they will have raised potentially millions of dollars before the election, and the committee goes out of business at the end of this Congress. Finding something new, however, does have risks for two chairmen: Mike Rodgers and Buck McKeon. They will have to explain how they missed it. But that is not likely to happen.
Democrats have been worried about how to deal with this select committee. Nancy Pelosi should make it clear this undertaking is, in fact, one of the GOP’s more disgusting money-raising shames. Intelligent voters know how to handle such information.