Why Darrell Issa Might Want to Cancel His Latest Benghazi Hearing

Newly released transcripts suggest he won’t find what he’s looking for.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., speaks to reporters following his meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 19, 2012. Holder wants a House panel to drop plans to try to hold him in contempt of Congress, and the panel's chairman wants more Justice Department documents regarding Operation Fast and Furious, a flawed gun-smuggling probe in Arizona. Holder and Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, met in an effort to resolve their dispute over the investigation of Fast and Furious by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Issa chairs. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)  
National Journal
Alex Seitz Wald
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Alex Seitz-Wald
Sept. 18, 2013, 12:06 p.m.

Re­pub­lic­ans are hold­ing no less than three hear­ings this week on the 2012 Benghazi at­tack, “to ex­am­ine the Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­ad­equate re­sponse,” as House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor said Monday (the same day, by the way, that Speak­er John Boehner slammed the pres­id­ent for en­ga­ging in par­tis­an­ship on the day of the Navy Yard shoot­ing).

They’re the latest in a long series of hear­ings and in­ter­views in­vest­ig­at­ing the at­tack, which Demo­crats have dis­missed as noth­ing more than a fish­ing ex­ped­i­tion in­to a “phony” scan­dal, but Thursday’s hear­ing will be spe­cial. Law­makers will fi­nally get to hear from Am­bas­sad­or Thomas Pick­er­ing and Adm. Mike Mul­len, the two re­tired of­fi­cials who led the gov­ern­ment’s in­tern­al re­port on the mat­ter. Get­ting Mul­len and Pick­er­ing in­to the hot seat has taken five months of ne­go­ti­ation and even a sub­poena, so they must be hid­ing something good, right?

Maybe not. We have a pretty clear idea of what the two former of­fi­cials might say, since they sat with con­gres­sion­al in­vest­ig­at­ors for be­hind-closed-doors in­ter­views in June. We fi­nally got to see the 355 pages of tran­scribed testi­mony this week (read Mul­len‘s and Pick­er­ing‘s here), but they’ve so far gone largely un­noticed. A re­view sug­gests that House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee Chair­man Dar­rell Issa and oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans will find no smoking guns in Thursday’s hear­ing.

For in­stance, there’s the ques­tion of wheth­er the ad­min­is­tra­tion did everything it pos­sibly could have to re­spond to the at­tack once it star­ted. Last month, Issa said in a ra­dio in­ter­view that the ad­min­is­tra­tion hasn’t ex­plained why it didn’t send air­craft, and sug­ges­ted that the pres­id­ent and then-Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton did not “ac­tu­ally care about people in harm’s way as they’re be­ing at­tacked by al Qaeda ele­ments.”

Mul­len, however, told con­gres­sion­al in­vest­ig­at­ors two months earli­er there was simply noth­ing more the U.S. mil­it­ary could have done. “[We] looked at every single U.S. mil­it­ary as­set that was there, and what it pos­sibly could have done, wheth­er it could have moved or not. And it was in that in­ter­ac­tion that I con­cluded, after a de­tailed un­der­stand­ing of what had happened that night, that from out­side Libya, that we’d done everything pos­sible that we could,” the former chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ex­plained.

His in­ter­locutor fol­lowed up: “So your con­clu­sion based on your ex­per­i­ence, 40 years of ex­per­i­ence, is that the mil­it­ary and the U.S. Gov­ern­ment did everything that they could to re­spond to the at­tacks?” Mul­len re­spon­ded, simply: “Yes.”

Why didn’t the U.S. send an “F-16 at low alti­tude [to] fly over those people who were at­tack­ing our con­su­late,” as Sen. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz., asked in May on ABC’s This Week? Be­cause, Mul­len told in­vest­ig­at­ors, the F-16 would need be re­fueled at least twice, and that was im­possible at the time. The “phys­ics of it, the real­ity of it, it just wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen for 12 to 20 hours,” he said.

He ad­ded that just be­cause forces wer­en’t able to get there in time doesn’t mean they wer­en’t try­ing. “It does not seem to be, at least from a pub­lic stand­point, widely un­der­stood, we moved a lot of forces that night,” he told in­vest­ig­at­ors.

What about the no­tion that Mul­len and Pick­er­ing’s re­view wasn’t in­de­pend­ent, as many Re­pub­lic­ans have claimed? Did he have full ac­cess? Did he look at every­one? “We had the au­thor­ity to, with­in the scope of the task­ing, to do just about any­thing that we thought was im­port­ant,” he said. “We in­ter­viewed every­one that we thought was rel­ev­ant “¦ the most im­port­ant de­script­ive char­ac­ter­ist­ic of it is that it would be in­de­pend­ent.”

What about Clin­ton? “In the end there was no of­fi­cial, in­clud­ing the sec­ret­ary of state, whose in­volve­ment wasn’t re­viewed,” he replied. “Every­body was on the table.”

“We found no evid­ence what­so­ever that [Clin­ton] was in­volved in se­cur­ity de­cisions” about the com­pound in Benghazi, Mul­len told in­vest­ig­at­ors. “She did not have such a role,” Pick­er­ing ad­ded. A re­port is­sued by Issa’s of­fice this week men­tions Clin­ton’s name 33 times.

And those are just some of the more ser­i­ous linger­ing ques­tions about the at­tack, not the more fanci­ful ones like the no­tion that of­fi­cials told spe­cial op­er­at­ors in coun­try to “stand down.” (On that one, here’s the Re­pub­lic­an House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Buck McK­eon: “Con­trary to news re­ports, [Lieu­ten­ant Col­on­el S.E.] Gib­son was not ordered to ‘stand down’ by high­er com­mand au­thor­it­ies … he would not have been able to get to Benghazi in time to make a dif­fer­ence.”)

Of course, it’s pos­sible that Mul­len and Pick­er­ing are ly­ing, but that gets us in­to the realm of con­spir­acy the­ory, which is un­for­tu­nately where so much of the con­ver­sa­tion around Benghazi has ended up. As The Wash­ing­ton Post‘s Dana Mil­bank wrote a few days ago, in­stead of fo­cus­ing on im­port­ant ques­tions, “the Benghazi scan­dal-seekers are de­term­ined to link Hil­lary Clin­ton” to the at­tack, and are get­ting “dis­trac­ted by wild the­or­ies.”

Giv­en that fact, no amount of testi­mony or hear­ings will likely lead to a real stand down or­der is­sued on Benghazi.

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