WASHINGTON — The Democrats are portraying the not-yet-even constituted House Select Committee on Benghazi as nothing but a partisan exercise. They are even considering boycotting the hearings to delegitimize them.
Fine. Although this would give the Obama-protective media a further reason to ignore Benghazi, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is whether the committee produces new, important facts. If it does, it will be impossible to ignore.
We’ve already seen what a single piece of new evidence can do in reviving interest in a story that many (including me) thought the administration had successfully stonewalled. The “PREP CALL with Susan (Rice)” email from Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, was withheld eight months until revealed by court order. It advises the U.N. ambassador to focus on an anti-Islam Internet video, contradicting the perennial White House claim that Rice’s blame-the-video five-show fable came just from intelligence community talking points and not from a White House in full campaign mode.
The select committee will be headed by Rep. Trey Gowdy, a skilled 16-year prosecutor. He needs to keep the hearings clean and strictly fact-oriented. Questions only, no speechifying. Every sentence by every GOP committee member must end with a question mark. Should any committee Republican instead make a statement ending in a period, the chairman should immediately, by button, deliver an electric shock through the violator’s seat.
The areas of inquiry are obvious. They are three: before, during and after.
Before: Where and to what extent was there dereliction of duty as memos, urgent pleas and mounting evidence of danger were ignored and the U.S. ambassador allowed to enter a deathtrap?
During: What happened during the eight hours of the Benghazi attack, at the end of which the last two Americans (of four) were killed by mortar fire? Where was the commander in chief and where was the responsible Cabinet secretary, Hillary Clinton? What did they do? The White House acts as if these are, alternatively, either state secrets or of no importance. For President Obama, we have three data points. At 5 p.m. EDT, he is briefed on the attack by the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
Around 8 p.m., Obama spends an hour on the phone with Benjamin Netanyahu to tamp down a breaking, politically injurious story that Obama snubbed the Israeli prime minister. The White House then issues a readout saying the leaders agreed there had been no snub. So the White House is engaged in campaign damage control literally in the middle of the Benghazi events — at a time when Ambassador Chris Stevens is missing and the firefight that killed two other Americans is three hours away. We’ve just learned that Obama was not in the Situation Room that night. Then where, doing what? We know, finally, that at 10 p.m. Obama called Clinton to get an update. What did they discuss, decide, order?
As former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy has pointed out, a half-hour later, State issued a statement deploring the video, setting the premise for the video excuse. Were Obama and Clinton working on a cover story — even before Glen Doherty had joined Tyrone Woods on the roof of the CIA annex where they were to die minutes later? Yes, that’s speculation. Well, then, give us facts. After all, the White House provided a cascade of hagiographic facts about Obama’s involvement in the Osama bin Laden raid. Yet regarding Benghazi — the most serious operational challenge of his presidency — he is nowhere to be seen.
After: We know the White House was pushing the “video made them do it” cover-up, lest the blame be placed on administration policy. Who was involved in that decision, obviously designed to protect a president campaigning that al-Qaida was “on the run”?
These hearings are a big political risk for Republicans. Going into the 2014 election, they stand to benefit from the major issues — Obamacare, the economy, unemployment — from which Benghazi hearings can only distract. Worse, if botched like previous hearings on the matter, these hearings could backfire against the GOP, as did the 1998 Clinton impeachment proceedings. On purely partisan considerations, the hearings are not worth the risk.
But the country deserves the truth. They’ll get it if the GOP can keep the proceedings clean, factual and dispassionate. No speeches. No grandstanding. Gowdy has got to be a tough disciplinarian — especially toward his own side of the aisle.
Charles Krauthammer is a Washington Post columnist. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.