A Republican-led House committee investigating the 2012 deaths of four Americans in Libya focused heavily Oct. 22 on a prosecution-style attack on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, alleging misleading comments and poor judgment.
But they failed to address the major remaining secrets from the Obama administration’s Libyan policies or to score significant damage to the witness.
Led by Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina (shown at right in a file photo), the seven Republicans on a special House committee used much of the all-day hearing ending at 9 p.m. to grill Clinton in detail on her email correspondence as key to her priorities. The ostensible purpose was to explore whether she failed to protect a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans from being killed from attackers in Benghazi.
Yet Clinton effectively parried most of their arguments by noting that she and her top staff relied entirely on security professionals at the State Department.
Almost totally unexplored was that the State Department procedures and a tight congressional budget required under longstanding policy that the Department hire low-cost outside contractors to augment security, as in Libya. In this case, the security was a British firm that used local personnel with no firearms who fled the scene during the attack, thereby leaving protection with five armed Americans. No questions about that were raised.
Democrats on the committee also noted that the CIA and Department of Defense held heavy response and other security duties for the ambassador, as in other State Department installations. But the committee has not questioned CIA and defense leaders or announced plans to do so during its 17 months so far.
Instead, it has focused heavily on the Democratic 2016 presidential front-runner, her personal staff, and friends.
Gowdy had denied that the committee has a prosecution mentality. His aggressive tone undercut that claim. His manner was mirrored by his colleagues, especially Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Peter Roskam of Illinois, and Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas. The CNN screenshot at left comes while Pompeo was demanding a “yes or no” answer from Clinton and forbade her from going beyond those syllables. She ignored his command and answered more extensively.
Sometimes raising his voice and otherwise clearly hostile to the witness, Jordan did score rhetorical points, however, by revealing that Clinton, in the midst of unsuccessful late night phone calls trying to obtain CIA or Defense Department reinforcements for the beleagured personnel, had told her daughter and later Egyptian counterparts in separate messages that the attack had appeared to be from an Al Qaeda-type group. In interviews afterward, Jordan gloated over his triumph with no apparent appreciation of the impact his bullying manner might have on audiences not predisposed to hate Clinton.
More generally, however, Rep. Adam Smith of the State of Washington told Clinton: “The purpose of this committee is to prosecute you.”
“The effort today seems to be,” Smith continued, “to prove that you personally decided not to your job.”
The committee’s majority focused heavily on Clinton’s use of a private email server, for which she expressed regret. But her use of the server had scant apparent relevance to the committee’s ostensible mandate of examining security in Benghazi, except to provide fodder for attacks.
Neither members of the committee nor the witness made any specific reference until 8:20 p.m. (in a hearing beginning at 10 a.m. and continuing into the night) to the underlying reasons for the Obama administration’s focus on Benghazi, endangering the ambassador or reasons why Republicans and Democrats alike avoid a focus on the CIA’s role under then-director David Petraeus.
Update: At 8:20 p.m., Pompeo asked whether she was aware of any arms being smuggled from Libya to Syria. She denied any such awareness. Cummings concurred, citing House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).