Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 14, 2016

Delayed Benghazi Hearings Equal Deliberate Quiet

Gowdy is taking a deliberate, prosecutorial approach to the Benghazi select committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Gowdy is taking a prosecutorial approach as chairman of the special Benghazi committee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Whatever happened to that summer blockbuster, the one about terrorism and scandal that would be must-see congressional TV?

Don’t expect to be able to tune in to the Benghazi hearings anytime soon. No air date for the premiere has been announced, because the pre-production work is off to a deliberately slow start.

The reason is that the impresario, Rep. Trey Gowdy, is much more experienced as a prosecutor than as an executive producer. And district attorneys, at least as much as studio moguls, are trained to refrain from going public if they have any doubt about their work being ready for prime time.

For reasons both procedural and political, Gowdy has reached a conclusion 10 weeks after he was handed the gavel of a newly created select House committee: The moment is not nearly ripe for the panel to convene in the open to talk about any events before, during or after Sept. 11, 2012, the night when terrorists overran the U.S. consulate and CIA annex in Libya’s second biggest city and four Americans were killed, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

During his first two terms, Gowdy has gained notoriety as one of Republicans’ most tenacious inquisitors of administration officials, a skill honed during his previous 16 years busting bad guys in South Carolina. His reputation for public zealotry aside, Gowdy understands how caution behind the scenes is the prosecutorial standard.

Many more criminal cases are settled with tidy plea bargains than with of roll-of-the-dice jury trials, and dozens of depositions are taken behind closed doors for every witness cross-examined in open court. The analogue on Capitol Hill is that a whole lot more fact-finding gets done by professional committee investigators away from cameras than by lawmakers posturing in front of them.

Besides, pursuing the inquiry for a while longer before any hearings works to the Republicans’ strategic advantage in several ways.

This period of deliberative quiet helps rebut Democratic criticism that the committee’s only purposes are to spur GOP fundraising, and to give the party one more shot before Election Day at selling the public on discredited conspiracy theories.

It gives the committee’s staff (only about half of the expected 30 have been hired because of security clearance backlogs) time to search for unanswered questions or undetected smoking guns in the 25,000 pages of records generated by six previous congressional investigations.

It provides some breathing room to the GOP’s campaign message-makers, who believe they’re having some success with lines of attack on other fronts: President Barack Obama’s handling of the throngs of undocumented children at the border, his implementation of the health care law and his muscular use of executive powers.

And it preserves the option for the Republicans to take their last best shots on Benghazi after the midterms, when political talk will turn nearly exclusively on the presumed presidential candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the secretary of State when the attack happened.

The same delay, though, brings decent risks for Gowdy’s side. Not generating news for more than two months has provided room for other Benghazi-related stories to get attention, and none of that coverage has helped the GOP’s cause.

In June, military commandos and federal law enforcement agents captured the Libyan Islamist militia commander Ahmed Abu Khattala, the alleged mastermind of the attack. Not only did his capture allow the administration to counter charges it hasn’t done enough to pursue the culprits, but Khattala’s pending prosecution could trump efforts by the committee to learn more about the plot.

Next, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gave reporters documents showing the GOP leadership had provided $3.3 million for the 12-member Benghazi committee to spend by the end of the year, more than the budgets of at least two House standing committees. (The special panel has no deadline for issuing its report and is almost certain to keep working in 2015, meaning it will receive more money then and be subject to a new round of criticism as a duplicative waste of taxpayer funds.)

But the most important bit of unwanted publicity came last week from, of all places, another Republican-run committee. House Armed Services gave The Associated Press transcripts of its interviews this year with nine military officers who agreed there was no “stand-down order” preventing troops and equipment from being sent to Benghazi in time to repel the attack and prevent American deaths. Allegations about such an order — and intimations it was given by Clinton, though she was not in the military chain of command — have been a central talking point from the GOP’s most ardent crusaders. Gowdy himself has given some credence to the stand-down conspiracy in the past, so the theory being undercut by another House panel hardly does him any favors.

The chairman is promising this month will be a time of intense activity at the committee, packed with interviews and briefings from several corners of the administration. He’s promising the five Democrats will be included every step of the way. But he’s also conceding that, by design, virtually all the work is supposed to remain invisible to the public for the indefinite future. (The panel’s bare-bones website doesn’t even list its phone number or Longworth Building address.)

The implicit message is a tough one to buy, because it runs counter to almost every norm at today’s hyper-combative, super-partisan Capitol: Trust us.

This summer’s delays and the absence of transparency represent the best way to produce better, meaning more meaningful, congressional theater in the end.


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Political Typecasting on the Benghazi Panel

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  • Dave Everett

    The capture of Libyan Islamist militia commander Ahmed Abu Khattala will hurt Obama/Hillary, not help. He is already testifying that he planned and plotted for weeks to set up the attack. Abu Khattala never mentions the fake “YouTube video” excuse that Obama made up when Obama was trying to protect his “GM’s alive/Al Qaeda is dead” message and distract from the obvious terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9-11.

    Also, as far as a stand-down order, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen Doherty were told to stand down by someone and they went anyway. That isn’t even disputed by anyone.

    Lastly, the lack of a request for assistance is as bad as a stand down order. When all the military guys know that requests for assistance will be met with political pushback from this administration, the more political ones just don’t ask. But please explain how Italy or Spain can’t get a jet over Libya in 12 hours? I can rent a speed boat and get to Libya in 12 hours from Italy. When England and France want to bomb Libya to protect their oil, we can work with our allies. When Americans are in trouble, Obama has his pen, but no phone to call our friends for assistance. Such lame excuses.

  • jack

    Theres been some good info from the closed meetings with military personnel. Of course its not covered by media. Issa was wrong no stand down issued.

  • ZenderTranscender

    During the past year there have been some landmark discoveries that have not made Obama and Mrs. Bill C. look so hot, including that end-all-and-be-all NY Times article asserting there was no wrong done by the dynamic duo. Unfortunately, within just days of the “the last word” article, results of the bipartisan investigating commission found and announced a variety of wrongs leading directly to Mrs. Bill’s State Department as well as to her then-boss, the O-Man. Now I guess Bill is her boss again. She certainly has put up with a lot of insulting behavior from him through the years. Ah, well, whatever … the Benghazi-ites should be happier than before. Many of the rest of us simply want to see ineptness and dishonesty revealed. It has been for the would-be prez candidate and for the sitting one. Will January 2017 ever arrive?

  • ShadrachSmith

    The simple fact that she had a mideast ambassador doing dark deeds in Libya on 9/11 with no Plan B, no backup, no escape…that has already proved to me that Hillary is unfit to command. Remember when her SUV ran over a security guard, and she didn’t stop? She just doesn’t have the temperament, the compassion, of a good leader.

  • John

    I ask two things: 1 get results, and 2 give us progress reports from time to time. GOOD LUCK!

  • erick

    The hearings are being held in secret behind closed doors to cover up the revelation that the Benghazi attack was planned by Osama Darrell Issa the Republican Taliban. Osama Darrell Issa was Bin Laden’s top Arab terrorist.

  • Payton Manning

    If it seems that central governments regard themselves as omnipotent, it is likely because they cite necessity to justify foolish actions.

  • Jon Kahr

    Those of the liberty school recognize that centralized power should be limited due to the limits of human reason and the ignorance each of us harbors regarding most things.

  • Gloss Finnish

    Our creativity, moral standards, learned customs, and traditions are four of the key differences between mankind and the other animals.

  • Plutark Heavensbee

    Since liberty’s survival depends upon the majority of citizens making it their primary objective, liberty has a limited chance of lasting if the mere existence of democratic processes is expected to preserve it.

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