Defense & National Security

Rep. Trey Gowdy named to lead select committee investigating Benghazi

Rep. Trey Gowdy named to lead select committee investigating Benghazi

Nothing makes the intensity of the reborn Benghazi scandal more obvious than putting Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) in charge of a select committee to investigate it.  Other good names were floated, as Fox News recalls, but appointing Gowdy is like putting Robocop on the case:

“With four of our countrymen killed at the hands of terrorists, the American people want answers, accountability, and justice,” he said. “Trey Gowdy is as dogged, focused, and serious-minded as they come.”

Boehner said Gowdy’s courtroom background makes him the “ideal person” to lead the newly announced investigation.

Gowdy’s name had been high on the short list ever since the speaker announced Friday he would call a House vote on forming a select committee. Boehner had long resisted calls for such a probe, but reversed course after newly released emails raised questions about the White House role in shaping the administration’s public narrative after the attack.

Other names mentioned for the job by Capitol Hill insiders had included Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas; Rep. Mike Turner R-Ohio; Rep. John Mica R-Fla.; Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.; and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

But Gowdy seemed to attract the most attention. Gowdy is a second-term lawmaker, a former district attorney and federal prosecutor, and a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The Fox News report mentions a little political drama with House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) supposedly being slighted by the creation of a select committee, but Issa doesn’t seem to see it that way, and such an interpretation dramatically underestimates how effective Gowdy has been in previous hearings:

The Gowdy selection was read by some as a blow to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and his probe into the 2012 attacks, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans including Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. In fact, some sources on Capitol Hill argue that one of the reasons a select committee has been commissioned is to specifically sideline Issa. Issa’s staff and the staff of the House Armed Services Committee got into a public dispute last week about the credibility of a Benghazi witness at an oversight committee hearing.

Issa, though, praised the selection on Monday, saying Boehner “could not have chosen a Member more committed to getting the full truth about the before, during, and after of the Benghazi terrorist attacks than Congressman Trey Gowdy.”

It has been suggested that Democrats might try to boycott this investigation, putting all their chips behind their new coordinated strategy to portray Benghazi as a conspiracy-nut obsession and political witch hunt:

That would be a serious mistake on the Democrats’ part.  This story has blown far beyond their ability to dismiss it out of hand.  No serious segment of the American public, beyond die-hard Democrat partisans, is interested in their opinion about whether it’s a “real story” or not.  There is mounting anger about the Benghazi lies, which will only be stoked by Democrats pulling some spoiled-child routine and sitting in the corner with their fingers in their ears.  The new smoking-gun White House emails are too clear, too obvious, and the Administration’s attempts to spin them away – such as White House spokesman Jay Carney claiming emails that reference Benghazi repeatedly really weren’t about Benghazi – have been a grievous insult to the intelligence of all who hear them.  Whatever might come next, it seems pretty clear that most of the American public is no longer in a mood to be patronized over this issue, or listen to Democrats shriek about partisanship while they’re playing partisan games.

From a purely strategic standpoint, it could only be a winning play for Democrats to blow off the renewed Benghazi probe if they were absolutely certain nothing newsworthy would emerge from them.  They probably can’t count on their media pals to ignore anything significant; a few members of the Non-Fox Media seem exasperated with the White House runaround.  Before he was announced as head of the select committee, Rep. Gowdy told Fox’s Greta van Susteren that he has “evidence that there was a systematic, intentional decision to withhold certain documents from Congress.”  That’s not going to be something the media can bury on Page A-26.  Unless they’re absolutely certain he’s bluffing, the Democrats really want to have some people at the table when Gowdy plays those cards.

The other big political problem for Democrats is that Gowdy’s hearings will occur in the context of President Obama’s rising unpopularity, and a growing sense that the Beltway-media access has been yanking their chains about a number of important issues.  That’s also the problem with trying to spin away the unpopularity of ObamaCare by telling Americans its problems are just figments of their imagination.  People know that isn’t true.  The effort to convince them otherwise only feeds their sense of distrust and betrayal.  With polls already anticipating a midterm election that will make 2010 look like a cakewalk for Democrats, the last thing they need is another phony narrative that will reinforce impressions of Obama’s mendacity, and the disconnect between Democrat rhetoric and reality.

The most dangerous mistake in modern American politics is looking out-of-touch.  It’s a very risky gamble for Democrats to assume, after what we’ve learned over the past week, that the people holding a Benghazi investigation will look more out-of-touch than the people who petulantly refuse to participate.

Update: Looks like the White House is thinking about trying to stonewall the select committee.  If they try that, Democrats will get slaughtered in 2014, as Barack Obama transitions from “unpopular” to “openly despised.”  Maybe they figure 2014 can’t get much worse for them, but buttoning up now might save Hillary Clinton in 2016.  I suspect they would be proven wrong about that, in part because Hillary will never stop facing the questions Obama refused to answer.  Also, anything nasty this White House keeps in the fridge today might come spilling out at a very bad moment in 2016.

Republicans are going to insist that it’s past time for America to get the full story on Benghazi.  The political battle over the next few months will hinge on whether a critical mass of voters believes that is a reasonable demand.  I wouldn’t bet against it.

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