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Trudy Rubin: Time to shut down Benghazi kangaroo court

Nothing illustrates the sickness of American politics more clearly than the latest round of Benghazi hearings – at which Hillary Clinton will testify this week.

It was clear from the start that Republicans created the House Select Committee on Benghazi as a political weapon that could be used against Clinton. In case anyone doubts this, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy admitted as much a couple of weeks ago.

In remarks whose truthfulness killed his chances to replace John Boehner as House speaker, McCarthy boasted that the committee was put together to undercut Clinton’s candidacy. Another Republican, Rep. Richard Hanna of New York, affirmed that the committee was “designed to go after people and an individual, Hillary Clinton.”

“That’s the way Washington works,” Hanna said.

No, that’s the way a hard core of right-wing Republican radicals work in the House of Representatives. They have already wasted $4.1 million of taxpayers’ money and dishonored the memory of the four Americans who died in the Benghazi terror attack.

As Hanna, a more traditional conservative, put it: “You’d like to expect more from a committee that’s spent millions of dollars and tons of time.”

Indeed, the House Select Committee on Benghazi has spent precious little time investigating what happened during the 2012 terror attack in Benghazi. Instead, it has focused mainly on Clinton’s emails.

That’s because Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., knew from the start there was nothing left to unearth about the Benghazi tragedy.

House Republicans had already conducted five previous investigations into that terror attack (along with two more investigations by bipartisan Senate committees, and an eighth by a high-level State Department accountability review board).

Hearings were held by: the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform; the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; the House Committee on the Judiciary; the House Committee on Armed Services; and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

All five committees are chaired by GOP stalwarts.

These probes produced criticism of the State Department’s overall security provisions for Libya. But none found Clinton guilty of any wrongdoing.

Consider the most exhaustive of the eight Benghazi reviews, conducted by the Intelligence Committee, which was then chaired by the tough and businesslike Michigan Republican Mike Rogers, a true conservative.

Rogers’ committee staff examined thousands of pages of intelligence assessments, cables, notes and emails, held 20 events and hearings, and conducted detailed interviews with senior intelligence officials and U.S. eyewitnesses to the attacks, including eight security personnel on the ground in Benghazi that night.

After nearly two years, the committee’s 2014 report debunked widespread conservative conspiracy theories that claimed President Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton had ordered the military to “stand down” for political reasons, rather than to rescue the beleaguered diplomats and other U.S. personnel.

The report stated bluntly: “The committee found no evidence that there was either a stand down order or a denial of available air support.” As for the administration’s much-maligned “talking points,” the committee concluded they were based on initial CIA assessments that were confused and inconclusive. In other words, there was no deliberate obfuscation.

Remember: This was not a report produced by Nancy Pelosi. It came from a committee with a Republican majority and a (responsible) Republican chair.

Obviously, there was no need for a ninth probe. But, as McCarthy made clear, Benghazi was never the real issue, only a convenient political tool.

Recall that, when the Select Committee on Benghazi was established 17 months ago, the Republican National Campaign Committee sent out an alert urging donors to become “Benghazi watchdogs” and bragged that “House Republicans will make sure no one will get away from Gowdy and the select committee.”

It’s no surprise that the select committee has barely made a show of investigating the terror attack in Libya. Instead, it has focused nearly full time on Clinton’s email, on the Clinton Foundation, and on Clinton’s friends and their business interests.

During one daylong session, according to the New York Times, the select committee asked former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal more than 160 questions about his relationship and communications with the Clinton family, and more than 270 questions about his business interests in Libya. It asked fewer than 20 questions about the Benghazi attacks.

So, prepare for a shameless political circus when Gowdy’s committee convenes on Thursday. Instead of questions about Benghazi, his committee will try to churn up another (bogus) scandal, grilling Clinton about her emails.

As McCarthy eagerly told Fox News, “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right. But we put together a Benghazi special committee. What are her numbers today?”

You’d think there were no pressing domestic or foreign issues that deserve congressional attention, no economic inequality, no immigration challenge, no crises in Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan. You’d think there was no better use of taxpayer money than to fund a political fishing expedition.

In the most notable moment of last week’s Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders said bluntly: “The American people are sick of hearing about (Clinton’s) damn emails. Enough of the emails. Let’s talk about the real issues facing America.”

I second that. Enough of the emails. Enough misuse of the tragedy in Benghazi. Enough of a House select committee that is giving Congress and a fractured Republican party another black eye.

Trudy Rubin’s email is trubin@phillynews.com.

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