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
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
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.

What We're Following See More »
Morning Consult Poll: Clinton Decisively Won Debate
1 days ago

"According to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, the first national post-debate survey, 43 percent of registered voters said the Democratic candidate won, compared with 26 percent who opted for the Republican Party’s standard bearer. Her 6-point lead over Trump among likely voters is unchanged from our previous survey: Clinton still leads Trump 42 percent to 36 percent in the race for the White House, with Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson taking 9 percent of the vote."

Trump Draws Laughs, Boos at Al Smith Dinner
1 days ago

After a lighthearted beginning, Donald Trump's appearance at the Al Smith charity dinner in New York "took a tough turn as the crowd repeatedly booed the GOP nominee for his sharp-edged jokes about his rival Hillary Clinton."

McMullin Leads in New Utah Poll
2 days ago

Evan McMul­lin came out on top in a Emer­son Col­lege poll of Utah with 31% of the vote. Donald Trump came in second with 27%, while Hillary Clin­ton took third with 24%. Gary John­son re­ceived 5% of the vote in the sur­vey.

Quinnipiac Has Clinton Up by 7
2 days ago

A new Quin­nipi­ac Uni­versity poll finds Hillary Clin­ton lead­ing Donald Trump by seven percentage points, 47%-40%. Trump’s “lead among men and white voters all but” van­ished from the uni­versity’s early Oc­to­ber poll. A new PPRI/Brook­ings sur­vey shows a much bigger lead, with Clinton up 51%-36%. And an IBD/TIPP poll leans the other way, showing a vir­tu­al dead heat, with Trump tak­ing 41% of the vote to Clin­ton’s 40% in a four-way match­up.

Trump: I’ll Accept the Results “If I Win”
2 days ago

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.