There was never any doubt that Democrats in Washington would launch an aggressive campaign to discredit the House Select Committee on Benghazi. The only question was when they’d do it.
That inevitable effort got under way last week, after House majority leader Kevin McCarthy boasted to Sean Hannity that the committee’s work had hurt Hillary Clinton’s public standing.
McCarthy’s claim is undeniably true. The investigation uncovered the existence of Clinton’s personal email server, and her mendacious efforts to explain why she didn’t use a secure government email account to carry out her work as secretary of state have complicated her presidential bid. But it was a monumentally foolish thing for McCarthy to say. And his efforts to clean up the mess—in a follow-up interview on Fox News and later in a written statement—only made matters worse. When McCarthy stunned the political world on October 8 by announcing he would not be a candidate to replace John Boehner as speaker of the House, he cited his unhelpful comments and the furor they created as a contributing factor.
Within hours of his original comments, Democrats were recasting McCarthy’s words as an admission that the committee’s purpose had been political. And within days the Clinton campaign released an ad featuring McCarthy’s comments, echoing claims that the committee had been designed to bring down Clinton. “The Republicans finally admit it,” says the narrator. “The Republicans have spent millions attacking Hillary because she’s fighting for everything they oppose.”
So much drama. So much nonsense.
Acknowledging that the probe has had a political impact is in no way an admission that it was conceived to do so. But like Republicans who mischaracterize Clinton’s “what difference” comment as a declaration of indifference to the murder of the American ambassador and three colleagues in Benghazi (it was not), Clinton defenders are happy to distort McCarthy’s comment to make a political point.
Here’s the reality: Chairman Trey Gowdy has gone out of his way to accommodate Democrats on the committee. The committee has obtained copious amounts of fresh information somehow missed by the previous Benghazi inquiries. And Gowdy’s had this success despite a concerted and sustained effort by the Obama administration to obstruct his efforts.
The committee began its public work in the spring of 2014 with a hearing focused on the State Department’s progress in making policy changes that might prevent future attacks like the one in Benghazi. There was no shouting and little partisan rancor. The topic had come from Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, often a partisan one, who floated the subject after Gowdy asked Democrats for input. Some conservatives criticized Gowdy for going soft. Dana Milbank, a left-leaning columnist at the Washington Post, wrote that the hearing “was exactly what congressional oversight should be.”
This wasn’t just a public show of good faith. Behind the scenes, Gowdy invited Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, to add topics to the investigation and to suggest witnesses that Democrats wanted to hear from. Cummings made no additions and offered no witnesses.
Gowdy set aside a tall stack of résumés from lawyers and investigators interested in the all-important job of chief counsel—many of them well-qualified, but with partisan background. He selected instead a no-nonsense three-star general whose political leanings, if he has any at all, remain a mystery even to his colleagues. His deputy chief counsel is a career former prosecutor who served under both Republicans and Democrats.
Despite these efforts, Democrats on the committee have sought to undermine its work and tarnish its credibility. The Obama administration has consistently refused cooperation or slow-rolled responses to the committee’s requests for access to witnesses or documents. What little cooperation the administration has provided has often come only after courts responding to outside lawsuits have forced the administration to cough up information.