After one internal investigation and eight congressional probes at a cost of $4.6 million, 530-plus days of Benghazi muckraking has led to this moment: Hillary Rodham Clinton vs. her proudest enemies, the Republicans.
Face-off of the frauds.
Before the discredited House Select Committee on Benghazi swears in the discredited Democratic front-runner, let’s review. What have we learned about our political leadership since September 11, 2012, when Islamic militants attacked two U.S. compounds in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens?
1. The first person to politicize the tragedy was a Republican. Then-GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney emailed reporters the evening of the raids: “The Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” The president had not yet responded to the raids, when the next morning, Romney then pinned the assaults on Obama’s “mixed signals” and a lack of world leadership.
2. Democrats responded with a lie. Then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice argued the following Sunday that “extremist elements” had joined in what she called a demonstration against an anti-Islamic video that began “spontaneously.” Obama and Clinton didn’t correct the record for days.
“For political reasons, it was in the White House’s interest to not portray the attacks as a terrorist incident,” wrote Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler. “Instead, the administration kept the focus on what was ultimately proved to be a political red herring—anger in the Arab world over an anti-Muslim video posted on YouTube. With key phrases and message discipline, the administration was able to conflate an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Egypt—which apparently was prompted by the video—with the deadly assault in Benghazi.”
3. Clinton and her team failed to secure the compounds. “Systematic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department … resulted in a Special Mission posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attacks that took place,” according to a board appointed by Clinton to investigate the attacks.
Despite that clear indictment, Clinton still dodges accountability through surrogates like Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, who argued on Meet the Press this week: “I don't know that we want the secretary of State making security decisions at particular facilities around the world. That's a big job for secretary of State, and I don't know that we want her micromanaging security.” Actually, we do. When her own board blames “leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels,” the buck stops at Clinton.
4. Republicans failed to find much more. The first GOP-led congressional investigation raised questions about the independence of the Clinton-appointed board that had criticized Clinton’s leadership. OK… A second criticized the administration for its false post-raid narrative, underscoring what we already knew. A third called the raid “preventable,” a theme hammered home in three subsequent congressional inquiries.
The seventh GOP-led probe largely exonerated the Obama administration of wrongdoing in its response to the attack. Republicans called it a whitewash and launched inquiry No. 8, which some of them admit was designed to sway the 2016 presidential campaign.
5. Clinton obstructed GOP investigations. How do you thoroughly investigate Benghazi and assess Clinton’s performance without her official email? You don’t. When the secretary of State decided to violate White House policy and historical precedent by putting all of her email on a private server, she circumvented congressional subpoenas and oversight. None of the prior investigations had access to her email. When the server was discovered by the latest panel, she vowed that all of her work-related email would be turned over. That didn’t happen.
6. Clinton is a good witness. She reminded people in the first Democratic debate that her political skills are underrated. Given the time to prepare, Clinton can perform—and, whether you like it or not, congressional testimony is less about fact-gathering than theater. In congressional testimony two years ago, Clinton was emotional and firm, a politically effective bit of stagecraft. Republicans will try to bait her into a sound bite they can use against her, like her exasperated, “What difference does it make?”
An apt line.
Republicans politicize the deaths of four Americans in two presidential elections. What difference does it make?
Democrats spin about the cause of the raid, and they condone Clinton’s serial deception about government email. What difference does it make?
It makes all the difference, actually, but the parties don’t hold themselves accountable. Democratic leaders will lie and politicize everything until Democratic voters make them stop. Republican leaders will lie and politicize everything until GOP voters make them stop.
What difference does it make? Consider the fact that the public’s trust in government and politics is at record lows—along with the favorability of both the Democratic and Republican parties. Unless we demand better from the people who lead these two discredited institutions, let’s not pretend they can make a real difference.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.