Clinton Benghazi Hearing Is a Face-Off of the Frauds

What have we learned since the Benghazi raid? Our politics stink.

A Libyan man walks in the rubble of the damaged U.S. consulate, after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, in Benghazi, Libya, September 2012.
AP photo/Mohammad Hannon
Ron Fournier
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Ron Fournier
Oct. 20, 2015, 12:04 p.m.

After one in­tern­al in­vest­ig­a­tion and eight con­gres­sion­al probes at a cost of $4.6 mil­lion, 530-plus days of Benghazi muck­rak­ing has led to this mo­ment: Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton vs. her proudest en­emies, the Re­pub­lic­ans.

Face-off of the frauds.

Be­fore the dis­cred­ited House Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Benghazi swears in the dis­cred­ited Demo­crat­ic front-run­ner, let’s re­view. What have we learned about our polit­ic­al lead­er­ship since Septem­ber 11, 2012, when Is­lam­ic mil­it­ants at­tacked two U.S. com­pounds in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Amer­ic­ans, in­clud­ing U.S. Am­bas­sad­or Chris­toph­er Stevens?

1. The first per­son to politi­cize the tragedy was a Re­pub­lic­an. Then-GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­ee Mitt Rom­ney emailed re­port­ers the even­ing of the raids: “The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s first re­sponse was not to con­demn at­tacks on our dip­lo­mat­ic mis­sions, but to sym­path­ize with those who waged the at­tacks.” The pres­id­ent had not yet re­spon­ded to the raids, when the next morn­ing, Rom­ney then pinned the as­saults on Obama’s “mixed sig­nals” and a lack of world lead­er­ship.

2. Demo­crats re­spon­ded with a lie. Then-U.N. Am­bas­sad­or Susan Rice ar­gued the fol­low­ing Sunday that “ex­trem­ist ele­ments” had joined in what she called a demon­stra­tion against an anti-Is­lam­ic video that began “spon­tan­eously.” Obama and Clin­ton didn’t cor­rect the re­cord for days.

“For polit­ic­al reas­ons, it was in the White House’s in­terest to not por­tray the at­tacks as a ter­ror­ist in­cid­ent,” wrote Wash­ing­ton Post fact-check­er Glenn Kessler.  “In­stead, the ad­min­is­tra­tion kept the fo­cus on what was ul­ti­mately proved to be a polit­ic­al red her­ring—an­ger in the Ar­ab world over an anti-Muslim video pos­ted on You­Tube. With key phrases and mes­sage dis­cip­line, the ad­min­is­tra­tion was able to con­flate an at­tack on the U.S. Em­bassy in Egypt—which ap­par­ently was promp­ted by the video—with the deadly as­sault in Benghazi.”

3. Clin­ton and her team failed to se­cure the com­pounds. “Sys­tem­at­ic fail­ures and lead­er­ship and man­age­ment de­fi­cien­cies at seni­or levels with­in two bur­eaus of the State De­part­ment … res­ul­ted in a Spe­cial Mis­sion pos­ture that was in­ad­equate for Benghazi and grossly in­ad­equate to deal with the at­tacks that took place,” ac­cord­ing to a board ap­poin­ted by Clin­ton to in­vest­ig­ate the at­tacks.

Des­pite that clear in­dict­ment, Clin­ton still dodges ac­count­ab­il­ity through sur­rog­ates like Rep. Adam Schiff, a Cali­for­nia Demo­crat, who ar­gued on Meet the Press this week: “I don’t know that we want the sec­ret­ary of State mak­ing se­cur­ity de­cisions at par­tic­u­lar fa­cil­it­ies around the world. That’s a big job for sec­ret­ary of State, and I don’t know that we want her mi­cro­man­aging se­cur­ity.” Ac­tu­ally, we do. When her own board blames “lead­er­ship and man­age­ment de­fi­cien­cies at seni­or levels,” the buck stops at Clin­ton.

4. Re­pub­lic­ans failed to find much more. The first GOP-led con­gres­sion­al in­vest­ig­a­tion raised ques­tions about the in­de­pend­ence of the Clin­ton-ap­poin­ted board that had cri­ti­cized Clin­ton’s lead­er­ship. OK… A second cri­ti­cized the ad­min­is­tra­tion for its false post-raid nar­rat­ive, un­der­scor­ing what we already knew. A third called the raid “pre­vent­able,” a theme hammered home in three sub­sequent con­gres­sion­al in­quir­ies.

The sev­enth GOP-led probe largely ex­on­er­ated the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of wrong­do­ing in its re­sponse to the at­tack. Re­pub­lic­ans called it a white­wash and launched in­quiry No. 8, which some of them ad­mit was de­signed to sway the 2016 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign.

5. Clin­ton ob­struc­ted GOP in­vest­ig­a­tions. How do you thor­oughly in­vest­ig­ate Benghazi and as­sess Clin­ton’s per­form­ance without her of­fi­cial email? You don’t. When the sec­ret­ary of State de­cided to vi­ol­ate White House policy and his­tor­ic­al pre­ced­ent by put­ting all of her email on a private serv­er, she cir­cum­ven­ted con­gres­sion­al sub­poen­as and over­sight. None of the pri­or in­vest­ig­a­tions had ac­cess to her email. When the serv­er was dis­covered by the latest pan­el, she vowed that all of her work-re­lated email would be turned over. That didn’t hap­pen.

6. Clin­ton is a good wit­ness. She re­minded people in the first Demo­crat­ic de­bate that her polit­ic­al skills are un­der­rated. Giv­en the time to pre­pare, Clin­ton can per­form—and, wheth­er you like it or not, con­gres­sion­al testi­mony is less about fact-gath­er­ing than theat­er. In con­gres­sion­al testi­mony two years ago, Clin­ton was emo­tion­al and firm, a polit­ic­ally ef­fect­ive bit of stage­craft. Re­pub­lic­ans will try to bait her in­to a sound bite they can use against her, like her ex­as­per­ated, “What dif­fer­ence does it make?”

An apt line.

Re­pub­lic­ans politi­cize the deaths of four Amer­ic­ans in two pres­id­en­tial elec­tions. What dif­fer­ence does it make?

Demo­crats spin about the cause of the raid, and they con­done Clin­ton’s seri­al de­cep­tion about gov­ern­ment email. What dif­fer­ence does it make?

It makes all the dif­fer­ence, ac­tu­ally, but the parties don’t hold them­selves ac­count­able. Demo­crat­ic lead­ers will lie and politi­cize everything un­til Demo­crat­ic voters make them stop. Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers will lie and politi­cize everything un­til GOP voters make them stop.

What dif­fer­ence does it make? Con­sider the fact that the pub­lic’s trust in gov­ern­ment and polit­ics is at re­cord lows—along with the fa­vor­ab­il­ity of both the Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an parties. Un­less we de­mand bet­ter from the people who lead these two dis­cred­ited in­sti­tu­tions, let’s not pre­tend they can make a real dif­fer­ence.

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