Nothing new there. Nothing to see here. Time to move on for good.
That was the attitude of most in the mainstream media to the 11-hour questioning of Hillary Clinton by the House Select Committee on Benghazi. It was not the prevailing attitude, as I remember, toward the hearings of the Senate Watergate Committee or the impeachment debate at the House Judiciary Committee (on whose staff Clinton served) 40-something years ago.
Of course there were different motivations at work. In 1973 and 1974, many in the media wanted to see Richard Nixon disgraced and removed from office. In 2015, many in the media don’t want to see the only plausible candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination disgraced and rendered unelectable.
This year, all the committee’s Democrats decried the hearing as a waste of time and a squandering of taxpayer money. Four decades ago many — but by no means all — Republicans made similar complaints about the Watergate and impeachment hearings.
In both cases, the purpose of the inquiry was legitimate. But in both cases, the focus of the inquiry, on a president or might-well-be-president, inevitably had a political dimension.
And in both cases, despite claims of partisan witch hunts, the committees unearthed legitimately revealing material that the target sought to keep secret. The Watergate committee discovered the Nixon tapes. The Benghazi committee discovered Hillary Clinton’s home-brew email system.
Which is not to say that the committees did not go down some blind alleys. Republicans peppered Clinton with questions about why Ambassador Christopher Stevens’ pleas for more security in Libya were denied. But it’s plausible that such pleas might not reach the secretary of state. And the decisions, obviously wrong in hindsight, were the sort of mistakes that, alas, government officials make all the time.
Thus in retrospect, Bill Clinton surely wished he had ordered an attack on Osama bin Laden when he was spotted on camera. And George W. Bush surely wished he had taken actions that might have prevented the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Bush and almost all Republicans wisely refused to heap blame on Clinton, and almost all politicians — except Donald Trump — have not heaped blame on Bush.
Contrary to media narrative, the Benghazi committee did produce some news. As Rep. Jim Jordan noted, on Sept. 11, 2012, the night of the Benghazi attacks, Clinton emailed her daughter that “two of our officers were killed in Benghazi by an al-Qaida-like group.” That’s also what she told the Libyan president that evening and the Egyptian president Sept. 12.
But in a public statement on Sept. 11, she blamed a spontaneous protest of an anti-Islam video. She blamed the video again on Sept. 12 and Sept. 13. The father of one Benghazi victim relays how Clinton told him that the administration would arrest “the filmmaker who was responsible for the death of your son.”
She made no public protest when Susan Rice, then ambassador to the United Nations, blamed the video for the attacks on five Sunday interview shows Sept. 16. Nor did she demur when President Obama was still decrying the video in his speech to the United Nations Sept. 25.
On the night of the attacks, Clinton remained at home and did not contact Defense Secretary Leon Panetta or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Around 10 p.m., she did call Obama, who remained in the White House that night and flew off the next morning to Las Vegas for a campaign event.
Did they agree to blame the attack on a spontaneous protest of an anti-Islam video? We don’t know and probably never will. But it’s certainly possible. Last week, Clinton had no plausible answer to Jordan’s question about the discrepancy between what she said privately and publicly except to unconvincingly cite “confusion.”
Certainly there was a political motive for the video lie. Obama was seeking re-election on a platform of, in Joe Biden’s words, “Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive.” The Benghazi attack undercut the narrative that al-Qaida was on the run. The video lie tended to sustain it at a crucial moment.
Nothing is free in politics, but there is some question as to when you’ll pay the price. Obama paid no price in 2012: He was re-elected. But Hillary Clinton, rated dishonest and untrustworthy by most voters after the Benghazi committee unveiled her private emails and spotlighted her video lie, is paying a price now.