How Will House Republicans Go After Hillary Clinton?

The Benghazi Committee’s investigation is winding down, but others are revving up.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (left) confers with House Select Benghazi Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy on Capitol Hill on July 7, as FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to explain his agency's recommendation to not prosecute Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton about her private email setup during her time as secretary of state.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
Oct. 31, 2016, 8:01 p.m.

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.

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