Welcome to the New, Surprisingly Civil GOP Approach to Benghazi

The first hearing of the House Select Committee on Benghazi highlighted a new path for Republicans looking to keep pressure on the White House over the 2012 attack.

Chairman Trey Gowdy and Rep. Elijah Cummings prepare to start a House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi hearing on Capitol Hill, September 17, 2014 in Washington, DC. 
National Journal
Sept. 18, 2014, 1 a.m.

When a Re­pub­lic­an mem­ber of Con­gress in­vokes the Sept. 11, 2012, at­tack on the U.S. Con­su­late in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Amer­ic­an dip­lo­mats, he is nev­er more than a hair’s breadth away from be­ing ac­cused of par­tis­an grand­stand­ing.

So it’s un­der­stand­able, if sur­pris­ing, that the first hear­ing Wed­nes­day of the House Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Benghazi was as apolit­ic­al as any hear­ing on the at­tacks so far. At the hear­ing, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., civilly con­duc­ted the com­mit­tee’s busi­ness—an al­most eer­ie de­par­ture from some of his past be­ha­vi­or in hear­ing rooms. His pre­vi­ous tone of right­eous in­dig­na­tion was re­placed with grav­itas.

“Giv­en the grav­ity of the is­sues at hand, I would rather run the risk of an­swer­ing a ques­tion twice than run the risk of not an­swer­ing it once,” Gowdy said at the start of the hear­ing.

On the whole, the hear­ing was nowhere near as ex­plos­ively par­tis­an as some were ex­pect­ing. As The Wire‘s Rus­sell Ber­man notes, the words “Obama” and “Clin­ton” were all but ab­sent from the three-hour-long hear­ing. It was so sub­dued, in fact, that some ob­serv­ers nod­ded off in the middle of it. If that was polit­ic­al grand­stand­ing, it was a par­tic­u­larly bor­ing way of go­ing about it.

As the hear­ing wore on, however, Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers be­came in­creas­ingly testy with those testi­fy­ing, es­pe­cially Gregory Starr, the State De­part­ment’s as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary for dip­lo­mat­ic se­cur­ity. So while Gowdy, a former fed­er­al pro­sec­utor, played the good cop, he could rely on fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans like Reps. Mike Pom­peo, Jim Jordan, and Peter Roskam to put Starr through the ringer.

So, what has changed since the 2012 Benghazi at­tacks? For one, the State De­part­ment has cat­egor­ized 30 “highest risk” em­bassy posts, and has sent out teams to en­sure that they meet se­cur­ity stand­ards. Starr also read­ily ad­mit­ted areas that the Benghazi em­bassy per­son­nel’s 30-day ro­ta­tions, for ex­ample, were not con­du­cive to their safety. “Con­stantly ro­tat­ing like that was not in our best in­terest,” Starr said. “We needed to change it.”

The State De­part­ment’s fail­ure in Benghazi re­mains at the fore­front of many con­ser­vat­ives’ minds. Last week, Fox News com­mem­or­ated the two-year an­niversary of the at­tack with a spe­cial called 13 Hours: The In­side Story. Me­dia Mat­ters found that, in the 20 months fol­low­ing the at­tack, Fox broad­cast more than 1,000 seg­ments fo­cused on Benghazi—an av­er­age of about 13 per week.

And two years after the at­tack, new ac­cus­a­tions are still com­ing to light. Ray­mond Max­well, a former State De­part­ment deputy as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary, re­cently told Sharyl At­tkisson that State De­part­ment em­ploy­ees had in­struc­ted him to scrub neg­at­ive in­form­a­tion from doc­u­ments be­fore they were handed over to in­vest­ig­at­ors. If his al­leg­a­tions are true, they would blow the Benghazi in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to the stra­to­sphere of polit­ic­al scan­dal. But, as Slate‘s Dave Wei­gel asks, why did Max­well wait so long to come for­ward?

We should get an­swers to these ques­tions soon. Rep. Jason Chaf­fetz told Fox News that Max­well will testi­fy be­fore the se­lect com­mit­tee “at some point.” At the hear­ing Wed­nes­day, Gowdy said he hoped to re­con­vene the com­mit­tee in Decem­ber, with fur­ther testi­mony from Starr.

Max­well has test­i­fied about the State De­part­ment’s re­ac­tion to Benghazi in the past, in front of the House Gov­ern­ment and Over­sight Re­form Com­mit­tee. The Over­sight Com­mit­tee’s Demo­crat­ic rank­ing mem­ber, Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings, has ex­pressed be­wil­der­ment over the fact that Max­well nev­er men­tioned the doc­u­ment shuff­ling in front of his com­mit­tee.

“Max­well was in­ter­viewed by our com­mit­tee, the Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee,” Cum­mings told Slate. “He was called by Chair­man [Dar­rell] Issa as a wit­ness. And he nev­er talked about this. He had plenty of op­por­tun­it­ies to do it.”

Mem­bers at the hear­ing Wed­nes­day did not, sur­pris­ingly, men­tion Max­well’s al­leg­a­tions, but stuck to the play­book: try­ing to fig­ure out what se­cur­ity meas­ures the State De­part­ment has im­ple­men­ted since 2012.

Gowdy dis­played re­straint for the first two and a half hours of the hear­ing, but took his clos­ing re­marks as an op­por­tun­ity to rip in­to Starr and the State De­part­ment writ large. He poin­ted out that, in 1999, then-Sec­ret­ary of State Madeleine Al­bright re­acted to the 1998 em­bassy bomb­ings in East Africa by call­ing for the cre­ation of an un­der­sec­ret­ary for dip­lo­mat­ic se­cur­ity—the same po­s­i­tion that the Ac­count­ab­il­ity Re­view Board called for after the Benghazi at­tack.

Of the 40 re­com­mend­a­tions a sep­ar­ate, in­de­pend­ent best prac­tices pan­el made to the State De­part­ment, 38 were ac­cep­ted, 30 were im­ple­men­ted, eight are on­go­ing, and two were re­jec­ted. One of the two re­com­mend­a­tions the State De­part­ment re­jec­ted was the pan­el’s No. 1 sug­ges­tion: the cre­ation of the un­der­sec­ret­ary po­s­i­tion for dip­lo­mat­ic-se­cur­ity over­sight.

“What is it about that re­com­mend­a­tion that is so talis­man­ic that it couldn’t have been made pri­or to the Benghazi at­tack?” Gowdy asked Starr. “Why is State De­part­ment cling­ing to this leg­acy of power that has failed?”

Starr—who, as it stands, is the closest thing the State De­part­ment has to such an un­der­sec­ret­ary—ar­gued that the un­der­sec­ret­ary po­s­i­tion would dis­tract from the mat­ter at hand be­cause they typ­ic­ally get as­signed a vari­ety of du­ties.

“I am not dis­trac­ted by that role,” Starr said. “I can fo­cus ex­clus­ively on se­cur­ity.”

It would ap­pear that Re­pub­lic­ans have figured out a way to keep Benghazi a pri­or­ity—al­beit a smal­ler one, now that the threat of an­oth­er war in Ir­aq is dom­in­at­ing news—without ap­pear­ing that they are grasp­ing for neg­at­ive head­lines ahead of an elec­tion. The old play­book: Badger State De­part­ment of­fi­cials to the point of tears while darkly ask­ing what Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton knew and when she knew it. The new play­book: Muddle through the more sober, pon­der­ous ques­tions of dip­lo­mat­ic policy, and hope to turn up a lead. So far, the lat­ter seems to be work­ing.

Cor­rec­tion: A pre­vi­ous ver­sion of this story mis­stated Chair­man Gowdy’s plans for a Decem­ber hear­ing. He plans to call back Asst. Sec­ret­ary Starr to testi­fy again, not Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry.

What We're Following See More »
TO DEMAND VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT MADURO STEP DOWN
Pence Traveling to Colombia
32 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

"Vice President Mike Pence will go to Colombia on Monday to speak with the Colombian president and regional leaders about the ongoing turmoil in Venezuela and rally the international community behind opposition leader Juan Guaidó." Pence "will deliver remarks to the 14 nations that are part of the 'Lima Group' in Bogota," and will meet with Colombian President Ivan Duque.

Source:
LIKELY TO FACE COMPETITION IN REPUBLICAN PRIMARY
Rep. Bradley Byrne Announces Bid Against Sen. Doug Jones
34 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

"U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne became the first official Republican entrant into the 2020 U.S. Senate race announcing his intention to run in a race that could become one of the most expensive political contests in Alabama history. Byrne, a three-term congressman from Fairhope, said he anticipates the fundraising during the lengthy 2020 campaign to eclipse the 2017 special Senate election, in which an estimated $50 million was spent during the contest. Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones, who narrowly defeated Republican Roy Moore in that election, raised more than $24 million."

Source:
TARGETS INCLUDED NANCY PELOSI
Coast Guard Lt. Planned Large-scale Terrorist Attack
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"A U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant and self-identified white nationalist was arrested after federal investigators uncovered a cache of weapons and ammunition in his Maryland home that authorities say he stockpiled to launch a widespread domestic terrorist attack targeting politicians and journalists...Though court documents do not detail a specific planned date for an attack, the government said he had been amassing supplies and weapons since at least 2017, developed a spreadsheet of targets that included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and searched the Internet using phrases such as “best place in dc to see congress people” and “are supreme court justices protected.”

Source:
AVOIDS SHUTDOWN WITH A FEW HOURS TO SPARE
Trump Signs Border Deal
5 days ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump signed a sweeping spending bill Friday afternoon, averting another partial government shutdown. The action came after Trump had declared a national emergency in a move designed to circumvent Congress and build additional barriers at the southern border, where he said the United States faces 'an invasion of our country.'"

Source:
REDIRECTS $8 BILLION
Trump Declares National Emergency
6 days ago
THE DETAILS

"President Donald Trump on Friday declared a state of emergency on the southern border and immediately direct $8 billion to construct or repair as many as 234 miles of a border barrier. The move — which is sure to invite vigorous legal challenges from activists and government officials — comes after Trump failed to get the $5.7 billion he was seeking from lawmakers. Instead, Trump agreed to sign a deal that included just $1.375 for border security."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login