Nel's New Day

October 22, 2015

GOP Grills Clinton for 11 Hours, Loses

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.

October 21, 2015

Problems Pile onto House Benghazi Committee

House Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. reacts to a question during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 3, 2015, about former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton using her personal email account for official business. A spokesman for Clinton says there was nothing illegal or improper about her use of a personal email account during her time as Secretary of State, rather than a government-issued email address. The practice could hamper efforts to archive official government documents required by law. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Eighteen months ago Trey Gowdy was almost totally unknown, but South Carolina’s U.S. representative has become infamous—and he doesn’t like it. The reason is his position as chair of the “Get Rid of Hillary Clinton” committee, also known as the House select committee on Benghazi. A former prosecutor should have a thick skin, but Gowdy almost cried about what he calls the attacks on his character and motives. He said that these are “1,000-times worse than anything you can do to anybody physically—at least it is for me.” These words came from the man who leads the right-wing in attacks on “character” and “motives” of Hillary Clinton.

Some of these attacks emanate from his own party members who point out that the goal of his committee is to keep Clinton from being elected president and that Gowdy is doing very little outside that purpose. One gaffe from the Gowdy team came after their accusation that Clinton released the name of a classified CIA informant in her infamous emails “which could jeopardize … human lives.” To prove his point, Gowdy leaked a redacted email, but the CIA has explained that the information was not classified—and not redacted.

As if that lie weren’t bad enough, Gowdy’s panel leaked the name of a Libyan CIA source in its squabbling with Democrats about the sensitivity of information and Clinton’s private email account. Following criticism from the State Department, Gowdy announced his decision to release documents over the objections of the State Department, making emails between Clinton and Blumenthal without redactions public if the State department doesn’t cooperate with him. House Benghazi Committee spokesman Jamal Ware said in essence that the committee can tell the public anything that it wants. Gowdy is blaming the State Department for its release of sensitive information.

A major question is whether Gowdy and other GOP committee members are acting illegally in their distorting intelligence documents and lying to the public. Twelve years ago, high level GOP officials, perhaps led by Vice-president Dick Cheney, deliberately leaked the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame in retribution for her husband’s opposition to the Iraq War. “Scooter” Libby took the heat for everyone, was convicted of lying, and then had his sentence commuted by George W. Bush when he was president.

Piling up problems for Gowdy and his committee on Benghazi is a 124-page report from Democrats on the committee based on the “54 transcribed interviews and depositions conducted by the Select Committee.” It “releases key excerpts from unclassified interviews conducted by the Select Committee and calls on Chairman Trey Gowdy to release the full transcripts of all interviews and depositions conducted to date, consistent with classification guidelines.” The summary reports:

“None of the witnesses substantiated repeated claims that Republican Members of Congress and presidential candidates have been making about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the past three years relating to the attacks in Benghazi.”

The Select Committee has not held a single public hearing since January and abandoned its plans for a public hearing with the Secretary of Defense after the New York Times broke the story about Clinton’s private emails. The only documents from the 70,000 pages that Gowdy publicly released are Clinton’s emails with Sidney Blumenthal, contradicting his claims that “serious investigations” do not “make selective releases of information without full and proper context.” Despite selective releases of Blumenthal’s deposition, Gowdy blocked release of the full transcript that would show GOP questions are not related to Benghazi.

Gowdy’s latest excuse for the eighth committee on Benghazi is that earlier committees didn’t have access to Ambassador Chris Stevens’ emails. On November 24, 2014, and December 9, 2014, the State Department produced to the Select Committee approximately 25,000 pages of documents that had already been “previously produced to Congress.” These documents included Stevens’ emails regarding security concerns.


Things may get worse for Gowdy with the revelation that the same person, Dan Backer, acts as treasurer for Themis, Gowdy’s leadership PAC, and STOP Hillary PAC, “created for one reason only—to ensure Hillary Clinton never becomes President of the United States.” Last month, STOP Hillary spent $10,000 on robocalls and other efforts on behalf of Gowdy. Donations from Dan Backer are not new: last April three pro-Gowdy organizations, all with Backer as treasurer, received donations from Backer. Of course, the man who benefits from groups stopping Clinton is investigating Clinton.

The Senate Democratic leadership has asked the Republican National Committee to pay for the almost $5 million thus far spent by taxpayers because the committee is “a political inquisition.”

Clinton has already accepted responsibility for the attack, and seven earlier committees have found no evidence of administration malpractice. Donald Trump also raised the question of why George W. Bush wasn’t responsible for the 3,000 deaths on 9/11. Jeb Bush has a new answer for that one: it’s Bill Clinton’s fault. The next question should be whether Ronald Reagan was at fault for the over 300 people killed in terrorists attacks on U.S. outposts in Beirut over 18 months of his presidency. The Democrat-controlled house created one commission about 241 dead U.S. servicemen, concluding that there had been “serious command and intelligence failures and said that the mission was not prepared to deal with the terrorist threat at the time due to a lack of training, staff, organization, and support.”

Headlines proudly announced that 44 percent of people weren’t satisfied with Clinton’s responses about Benghazi, compared to 27 percent who say they are. Yet the headlines skipped over the 36 percent of the people who think that the Benghazi select committee is biased, compared to 29 percent who disagree. When Bernie Sanders said in the Democratic debate that America was “sick and tired of hearing” about Hillary Clinton’s “damn emails,” he was right. The 59 percent who agreed increased to 61 percent among registered voters. Only 32 percent want more media coverage, and those are primarily Republican. Almost as many who are tired of the coverage, 52 percent, said that Gowdy was “more interested in going after Clinton” than “learning the facts” about the attack, and 54 percent believe Clinton had the personal email account in order to be convenient rather than hide her behavior.

Tomorrow, October 22, Hillary Clinton is scheduled to appear before the House Benghazi select committee, possibly for eight hours. Unlike other hearings, this one will be made public, and the GOP members will most likely be polite, unlike at the Planned Parenthood hearings, so that they won’t be seen as bullies and further alienate voters. Two important questions about the committee: after three years and seven other committees, what more can they discover? And if four deaths are important, why aren’t there hearings about the increasing numbers of people dying and wounded from gun violence?

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