Hillary Clinton testified before the Benghazi select committee for eleven hours today. I missed the first eight hours, but just watching the last three hours was exhausting. I cannot imagine what it was like for the Democratic presidential candidate, who calmly answered all questions except when the questioning attacked her staff and Admiral Mike Mullins. There were no revelations, no new information over the past eight committees, but the committee was an embarrassment for the Republicans who insisted on continuing despite admission that it was designed to destroy Clinton’s presidential hopes. Jonathan Allen encapsulated the 11 hours well:
“Republicans will kick themselves for dragging Hillary Clinton before the House Benghazi committee Thursday.
“It was a defining moment for Clinton’s presidential aspirations. She handled the GOP’s questions with aplomb and without the patina of partisanship that has characterized the committee since its conception. That would have been bad enough for the Republicans’ hopes of seizing the White House in 2017. But she did much more than that. She answered questions that Republicans have been hanging out there in hopes of sowing doubts among voters.
“Does she believe in American exceptionalism? Yes.
“Can she be non-partisan, serious, and policy-minded? Yes.
“Is her mental acuity superior to pretty much anyone you know? Yes.
“Is she human? Yes.
“Does she have the energy to be president? Yes.
“Conservative commentators were disgusted with the failure of the committee’s GOP lawmakers to land a single punch on Clinton. The worst thing she acknowledged was that Ambassador Chris Stevens didn’t go outside the chain of command to email her directly about what was happening in Libya. Strategically, the big error for the GOP is having entangled the email investigation with the Benghazi probe. Because the latter is tainted with partisanship, so, too, is the former.
“All in all, it was an embarrassment for Republicans and one that, improbably, made Clinton look more presidential.
“Clinton’s opening statement—delivered on the heels of bickering between Chair Trey Gowdy and top Democrat Elijah Cummings over whether the committee is partisan in nature—was essentially a eulogy for the Americans who died in Benghazi in 2012.
“In it, she referred to Ambassador Stevens’s mother saying he had “sand in his shoes” to describe his dedication to on-the-ground diplomacy in dangerous places.
” ‘Before I left office,’ Clinton said, ‘I launched reforms to better protect our people in the field.’
“For the rest of the hearing, she hewed close to the line that she would cooperate in trying to uncover anything that would help keep Americans abroad secure in the future. She also told emotional stories about the night of the Benghazi attacks, recounting how the ambassador and two others tried to crawl out of a smoke-filled building at the Benghazi facility. Two of them didn’t make it out. She described the tense hours when State Department officials couldn’t locate Stevens, and how Libyans poured into the streets in a show of support for him after he was killed. Clinton said she found it “deeply distressing” that she was being blamed for Stevens’s death.
“Throughout the hearing, she kept her composure, even when Gowdy became agitated, when Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) fired questions at her in a condescending tone, and when Rep Peter Roskam (R-IL) yelled at her for compiling a list of her accomplishments in Libya.
“Roskam accused her of trying to ‘turn progress in Libya into a political win for Hillary Rodham Clinton’ and then shifting her attention away from the country.
“Clinton calmly called it a “political statement” that had nothing to do with the matter at hand.
“The biggest problem for the GOP is that there’s nothing more to learn about what happened in Benghazi. Four Americans were killed by terrorists. Clinton didn’t know the attack was coming. And she was the administration official most engaged in the immediate response.
“The Republican tack could be broken down into a couple of main points: Roskam argued that Clinton was the chief force behind US Libya policy, while Gowdy and Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) tried to prove that she was taking more advice from Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal than from Stevens.
“It’s true that Clinton was the main architect of US Libya policy. She put together the international coalition that took out Muammar Qaddafi, and she convinced the president it was the right thing to do. But she also noted that it was the president’s call. Republicans proved what she’s written in her book and what many journalists reported at the time.
“If the Republican presidential nominee can plausibly claim that he or she was against the Libya war—and some cannot—Roskam’s line of questioning could be useful in the general election. But it wasn’t revealing.
“Blumenthal is a red herring — a political hanger-on who emailed Clinton a lot with borrowed intelligence. He’s never been to Libya and didn’t have any firsthand information about the security there. The references to his emails only seemed to underscore how little the hearing had to do with the actual situation on the ground in Libya or the administration’s security posture in Benghazi.
“Pompeo grilled Clinton on whether Stevens had her email address, her home address, or her phone number. Her home address can be found on Google. It would not have been hard to reach her in an emergency, and, in fact, she was alerted very quickly when the Benghazi compound was attacked.
“After Roskam accused Clinton of using Libya as a tool for her political advancement, Clinton batted him aside.
” ‘For the witness to be right is a failure of the committee,’ Lawrence O’Donnell, a former staff director for the Senate Finance Committee, said on MSNBC.
“One veteran Republican strategist told me she stopped watching the hearing because ‘the questioning is so bad.’
“Clinton’s team couldn’t have dreamed for a better exposition of her strengths and the weakness of her Republican provocateurs.”
USA Today, owned by conservative Rupert Murdoch of Fox fame, admitted that Clinton came out of the hearing “largely unscathed.”
Unable to find anything else wrong with Clinton’s testimony, conservative press noted that she “stumbled” because of a serious coughing fit. The two-minute episode was after she had been speaking for ten hours, and she overcame the problem and continued for over another hour.
CNN tried to manufacture “fireworks” between Clinton and the committee, but the real fireworks came among the members. Clinton’s testimony was almost entirely level and calm.
When committee chair, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), was asked if the 11 hours revealed anything new, he hemmed and hawed before he indicated that there was probably nothing new. As bad as things have been for him in the past, Gowdy is in for more attacks after his bad performance today. Having sworn that the only purpose of the committee is to find the truth and denying that the committee is a “prosecution,” he compared the investigation to a criminal trial. He further said, “I can’t end a trial simply because the defense won’t cooperate.”
Claiming that the committee had nothing to do with Clinton’s emails, Gowdy asked about nothing else. Even worse was when Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) asked that the full transcript of Sidney Blumenthal be released, a reasonable request because that was Gowdy’s focus. Until now, Gowdy has leaked only selected parts of this transcript. An attempt to put Cummings down for wanting the transcript failed, and he may be forced to release the non-damning results of committee hearings.
A history of the $20 million that U.S. taxpayers have paid for investigations into Benghazi is available here, including the five House committees, two Senate committees, and a nonpartisan, independent Accountability Review Board—all finding that there was no gross negligence. This website constantly updates the costs of the current Benghazi select committee.
Hillary Clinton will be interviewed on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show tomorrow, October 23.