My friend Sid Blumenthal was deposed yesterday by the House Benghazi committee. Yep, my friend. For 20 years or so, since before he joined the Clinton White House. You have a right to know that as I say that he had no business whatsoever being dragooned before that contemptible congeries of con men, because he was a private citizen who had absolutely nothing to do with the events that led to the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and the three other Americans who died in that consular attack, the investigation of which is—or, as we’ll see, was—the ostensible reason the body was empanelled.
I know what much of Washington thinks of Sid. But I don’t go around dumping friends of longstanding because they get thrown headlong into the news cycle, so yes, you bet I will defend him. He had no “business interests” in Libya, and all he did was pass on intelligence assessments—not just about Libya, but about all kinds of places—from a friend of his who once ran the CIA’s European operations to another friend of his who happened to be the secretary of state.
But here’s the thing: You don’t have to like Blumenthal. In fact for all I care you can think he’s Rasputin and Albert Bacon Fall (look him up) and Bobby Baker (look him up too) all rolled into one. But the fact is he went before that committee for one reason and one reason only: because its real job is not to investigate those four deaths, which in any case have been investigated eight times by seven congressional committees and once by a State Department review board, none of which found any wrongdoing on Hillary Clinton’s part.
No, this committee’s real job is to get Clinton.
Let’s mention high up what is the main point here. This “investigation” now constitutes openly and defiantly urinating on the grave of Amb. Stevens. Many diplomats and friends of Stevens’s are aghast at this. “It's a desecration of Chris’s memory,” says his old friend Daniel Seidemann, the American-born and Jerusalem-based peace activist who got to know Stevens during the latter’s time in Israel. “That this should be the ‘reward’ for the finest American public servant I ever met is a sad commentary on the decay of political culture in the United States. Shameless.”
Robert Ford, the courageous former ambassador to Syria, told me: “Chris Stevens cared deeply about the people of the Middle East and North Africa, and about helping them build better futures for themselves and their families and about building better relations between them and the United States. Those goals weren’t Republican or Democratic. Using his tragic death, and the deaths of his dedicated colleagues, for partisan, tear-down political gain minimizes the importance of their deaths and the issues with which they were grappling. It’s really an insult to demean them this way.”
Daniel Serwer, who was a special envoy to Bosnia in the 1990s, didn’t even know Stevens but feels similarly. “There really isn’t anything to be investigated about the incident itself until they get someone who was personally responsible for the attack on the U.S. facilities,” Serwer says. “In the meanwhile, they are going after Hillary Clinton. Does anyone think they would be doing that if she were not a candidate for president?”
The committee’s motivation has always been obvious, but it became undeniably so on Monday, when Politico ran a piece headlined “Beyond Benghazi.” The gist of it was that committee chairman Trey Gowdy has now expanded the scope of the probe to include “the administration’s entire policy toward Libya, not just the brief period before and after the Benghazi attacks of September 11, 2012.” Why would Gowdy be doing this? Gowdy told Politico, referring to the White House and State Department: “They believe we’re supposed to be Benghazi-centered, looking at a couple of days on either side of the Benghazi attacks. But the language of the [House] resolution is pretty clear: We’re to examine all policies and decisions that led to the attacks.” “All policies” can include virtually anything—the decision under NATO’s banner to intervene in Libya in the first place, and everything that happened thereafter.
In other words—Gowdy’s investigators have come up empty on the consular attack itself, but their assignment, undoubtedly never spoken but equally undoubtedly always understood, is to find something that will keep Clinton out of the White House. And so the net will now be cast far more widely.
It wasn’t so long ago that Gowdy was singing from a very different songbook. Here is an April 15, 2015, letter, made public by the committee’s Democrats, from an assistant secretary at State to Gowdy. Click on it and jump to page seven. There, you will see that the letter quotes from a letter Gowdy had written to Clinton attorney David Kendall on December 2, 2014, in which Gowdy wrote that the “Committee has no interest in any emails, documents, or other tangible things not related to Benghazi.”
More recently, in March of this year, Gowdy said on Face the Nation: “We’re not entitled to everything. I don’t want everything...There are three tranches [of what we need to know]…Why did we have a facility that didn’t meet any security specification whatsoever?…Our military response, where were our assets located?…And then, thirdly, the aftermath. I continue to naively believe that people have a right to expect their government to tell them the truth in the aftermath of a tragedy.”
As I said above, and as Serwer noted, those three questions have already been answered many times over. We know exactly where our military assets were, and everything else. But the answers to these questions have not been to Republicans’ liking, so Gowdy wants different answers. And now, fearing that he’s not going to get them, he’s changed the whole basis of the probe.
Now, all of Libya policy is fair game. Did Clinton make a policy recommendation—even one—that turns out to have been bad in retrospect, thus proving her utter lack of foreign policy clairvoyance? Did she make any misjudgments? Why, this of course would be unforgiveable; after all, Libya is a very easy country to apprehend and master, so there’s no excuse for misjudgments of any sort! The thinking now is clearly this: Well, if we can’t nail her to the wall on the attacks, at least we can raise questions about her foreign policy judgment.
Which returns us to Blumenthal. He spent nine hours—nine hours—being deposed yesterday. About half an hour was spent on the Benghazi attack. He wasn’t even asked by Republicans about the attacks until around 6 p.m., seven-and-a-half hours after he sat down in the chair.
The Republicans didn’t even seem to know that Blumenthal didn’t write these intelligence assessments, that they were written by the former CIA operative, Tyler Drumheller, not Blumenthal, who was just passing them along. At one point, Darrell Issa—not a member of the committee—sauntered in, but not being a member of the committee was escorted out by Gowdy himself. “It seems obvious that my appearance before this committee was for one reason and one reason only,” Blumenthal told me Tuesday night. “And that was politics.”
The point of all this was obvious: It was to see if they could lure Blumenthal into saying one thing that might in some way contradict anything Clinton has said publicly or will say to the committee. The committee’s staff knows very well that the media will pounce on any inconsistency, happily keeping the grassy-knoll narrative about Blumenthal as the Clinton whisperer bouncing along, without pausing for a moment to examine Gowdy and the committee’s actions and motivations, or God forbid to demand that these people stop spending taxpayer money—$3.5 million so far, with an estimate that it could run up to $6 million—on this obviously political hunt for scalps, or one particular scalp.
There’s a scandal going on here all right. It’s just not the one the press thinks.