The end is finally in sight for the House Select Committee on Benghazi. The panel’s Republicans still haven’t formally submitted their long-finished report to the full House, which sets a 30-day clock ticking on the group that the GOP created in mid-2014. But GOP leadership and committee aides confirm that it won’t be rolled over into the next Congress.
Nonetheless, the end of the panel that helped uncover Hillary Clinton’s private email server is hardly the end of House Republicans’ aggressive oversight of the woman favored to become the next president.
Assuming Clinton wins—and perhaps even if she doesn’t—Republicans will continue probes into Clinton’s email setup and the FBI’s handling of the case and the Clinton Foundation. What isn’t clear yet is what form those investigations will take, and how many prominent GOP lawmakers will get a chance to take on a huge target.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has already ended former Speaker John Boehner’s decision to keep the email probe housed in the Benghazi panel, unshackling Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz to pursue Clinton-related inquiries.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte has joined Chaffetz in probing the FBI’s recommendation against charging Clinton. Even Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith has gotten in on the act in recent months with his own inquiry that has focused on private information-technology firms involved with Clinton’s email setup and the system’s security.
However, one former Oversight aide said it’s not a free-for-all.
“I think they already are working very closely together, wherever it makes sense to do so. I think leadership is very much in the loop as well helping to assign and manage lanes,” the former aide said.
The email scandal is under even brighter lights following FBI Director James Comey’s explosive letter Friday informing Republicans that the probe of Anthony Weiner’s sexting has unearthed emails that … may or may not mean anything.
For now, it appears that Chaffetz’s committee will be host to the primary action when it comes to probes of Clinton’s emails, though leadership aides have not flatly ruled out creation of a new select committee.
“The rigorous oversight conducted by House Republicans has already brought to light troubling developments in the Clinton email scandal. The speaker supports OGR’s investigative efforts following where the evidence leads, especially where it shows the need for changes in the law,” said AshLee Strong, Ryan’s press secretary.
But Chaffetz won’t be alone.
“Because Secretary Clinton was not forthcoming about her use of a private email server to send and receive classified information, a number of questions still remain and have not been answered by the Obama administration,” said a GOP aide on the Judiciary Committee.
“The House Judiciary Committee will continue to seek answers about Secretary Clinton’s unauthorized use of a private email server,” the aide said.
And if some Republicans really went nuclear and tried to impeach Clinton, any hearings for that effort would have to go through the Judiciary panel too. (Technically an individual member could bring a privileged impeachment resolution straight to the House floor, as Rep. John Fleming sought to do against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen.)
It will be a delicate balancing act for House Republicans and Ryan in particular. Members are eager to shine a bright light on Clinton, but Ryan must also find a way to avoid the appearance that the House is transforming itself into a big opposition-research operation.
Michael Steel, a former top aide to Boehner, said there are a “number of areas of legitimate inquiry” into Clinton. The structure of the GOP probes, he said, is not that important to the public.
“I think the committees have a responsibility to conduct responsible oversight and that is what I expect they will do. I don’t know that voters care about the details of whether there are multiple committees involved, or a single select or special committee,” Steel said.
“Washington Democrats will complain about a ‘taxpayer-funded fishing expedition’ whether you do a deep-sea charter or toss a line from a cane pole into a creek,” he said.
But Democrats say there are already signs that Republicans are planning to aggressively undermine a Clinton presidency. In recent days, Democrats and Clinton aides have pounced on comments by Jason Chaffetz, who told The Washington Post that Clinton’s record is a “target-rich environment.”
“Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good,” Chaffetz told the paper.
Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, on a call with reporters over the weekend, used Chaffetz’s words against him when attacking Chaffetz’s characterization of Comey’s announcement.
“It is not surprising that Congressman Chaffetz would take the opportunity to distort the facts to mount an attack on Hillary Clinton. This is someone who has promised to launch years of new Hillary Clinton investigations when she is president,” he said.
Other Democrats have seized on the GOP’s plans too.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that on the first day Secretary Clinton walks into the White House, Republicans will have already investigated her more than any other president in history,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the Oversight and Benghazi panels.
As for the Benghazi panel, which issued its report over the summer, GOP aides confirmed Monday that it’s indeed coming to a close in this Congress. (The Post had reported that Rep. Jim Jordan, an aggressive Clinton critic, said recently that he wants it to continue. His spokesman did not respond to an inquiry.)
“The select committee on Benghazi will not be renewed. The standing committees have all the authority needed, should any further action be required,” a GOP leadership aide said.
Benghazi committee spokesman Jamal Ware said that the committee is “in the process of clearing documents with the administration for public release and archiving records.”
“The FBI and other congressional committees may examine matters discovered as a consequence of the Benghazi committee’s investigation, but it won’t be this committee, which, as I said repeatedly, was only investigating the Benghazi terrorist attacks,” he said.