This year, in a break from tradition, I am giving thanks for the House Intelligence Committee’s final report on Benghazi.
Also family and friends. But I give thanks for them every year. This is our first opportunity to be grateful for the House Intelligence Committee’s Benghazi report. So let’s jump at it.
Really, you don’t get good news like this all the time. The committee spent two years conducting a bipartisan investigation into the terrible night in 2012 when four Americans, including the Libyan ambassador, were killed in a violent attack on a U.S. compound. It found that while mistakes were made, the Americans on the ground in Libya made reasonable decisions, as did the people trying to support them. The CIA was brave and effective. Nobody in the White House thwarted a possible rescue or deliberately tried to mislead the public about what happened.
Whew. You can imagine the excitement when this report was unveiled. Or, actually, quietly posted on the committee’s website. On Friday evening. On the eve of a holiday week.
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The Intelligence Committee is, of course, led by members of the Republican majority. The only time Republicans don’t talk about Benghazi, it turns out, is when they report about their findings.
The silence was pretty deafening. Except for Sen. Lindsey Graham, who helpfully told CNN: “I think the report’s full of crap.” And Newt Gingrich, who theorized that the Intelligence Committee had been “co-opted by the CIA.”
Newt knows. (“I’ve talked to four different people who have a real interest in this topic at a professional level. They are appalled by this report.”)
There have always been two ways of looking at Benghazi. One is as a terrible loss that might have been mitigated if the diplomatic compounds had been better protected, and that the State Department needs to rethink its traditional bureaucratic approach to overseeing security. The other, far more exciting, possibility is that this is all about Obama-Clinton perfidy. Was there a team of potential rescuers who were kept away from the fray because the administration didn’t want to admit it had underestimated the terror threat in Libya? Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, confided at a Republican fundraising dinner that he had “suspicions” that Hillary Clinton told then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “to stand down.” The Intelligence Committee didn’t find any evidence whatsoever that that had occurred. But they were, you know, co-opted.
The committee and its staff spent what one Democratic member said was “thousands of hours” reading intelligence reports, cables and emails about the incident. It was a heck of a commitment. Although, to be fair, surely no more than the House Armed Services Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which have been looking into exactly the same events and coming up with pretty much the same conclusions.
Still to come: A special $3.3 million House Committee that Speaker John Boehner has created to pursue what Chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina says will be the “final, definitive accounting of the attack.” The effort is needed, Boehner said, because the “American people still have far too many questions” to let the inquiries drop now after nobody has had a chance to look into the matter except a special independent review board, the House Intelligence Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
And then, of course, there’s the House Oversight Committee, under the irrepressible Issa, which shows no sign of wrapping up its Benghazi investigations. Issa has already sent Gowdy a 37-page letter listing what he said were State Department efforts to obstruct his probes. But he’s required to step down as chairman at the end of the year, and his replacement, Jason Chaffetz of Utah, seems to be planning a less lively approach. The top Democrat on the committee, Elijah Cummings, said Chaffetz had shown “a sincere interest in working together,” as opposed to Issa’s sincere interest, at one point, in cutting off Cummings’ microphone at a public hearing.
We give thanks for all the congressional investigations into Benghazi. Who says Congress can’t reduce unemployment? In March, the Defense Department said that it had devoted “thousands of man-hours to responding to numerous and often repetitive congressional requests regarding Benghazi, which includes time devoted to approximately 50 congressional hearings, briefings and interviews” at a cost of “millions of dollars.”
Meanwhile, there are rumblings from some Senate Republicans that what the next Congress needs is a good joint House-Senate Benghazi investigation. On the other hand, the House Agricultural Committee seems to have no interest whatsoever in initiating a probe. For this, we are truly thankful.