House Republicans have a history of twisting facts to create a circus during congressional hearings; it’s a feature, not a bug for them.
But in a taste of sweet irony, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch subtly flipped the script during the impeachment hearings Friday, using her opening statement to name her colleagues who were killed in Benghazi and subsequently used as political props to attack the Obama administration’s State Department. Speaking of the department, she said: “We are Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Patrick Smith, Ty Woods, and Glen Doherty—people rightly called heroes for their ultimate sacrifice to this nation's foreign policy interests in Libya, eight years ago. We honor these individuals. They represent each one of you here—and every American. These courageous individuals were attacked because they symbolized America.”
The Benghazi hearings were a new low for House Republicans, who turned a national tragedy into a political circus focused on bringing down a Democratic presidential candidate. Those hearings were never about what happened in Libya, and how to prevent future tragedies—as Kevin McCarthy publicly bragged at the time. They were about smearing Hillary Clinton so that she would lose in 2016. And it worked.
That why House Republicans and Donald Trump are trying to do the same thing to Joe Biden in 2020.
The same people who drove the Benghazi hoax are now running Trump’s impeachment defense: Mike Pompeo, Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows, Devin Nunes, Lindsey Graham, and Mick Mulvaney. Only now, instead of backbenchers, they’re party stars in large part because of their political success with the Benghazi hearings.
The lesson they learned is that politicizing American foreign policy at the expense of the country’s national security in order to win an election is a time-tested strategy. At the core of this shameless abuse of our national security is the mistreatment of an American ambassador.
In the case of Chris Stevens, with whom I worked and who was beloved by the career State Department personnel, it was these Republicans who convened nine congressional investigations for multiple years to uncover zero scandal about his and three other Americans’ horrendous murder, except for mundane, unfortunate, and fixable bureaucratic mismanagement. Unsatisfied, they then formed the Benghazi Select Committee to find the scandal that they wanted but that didn’t exist.
And when they created the Select Committee, dozens of State Department witnesses were called to testify. All of them came, never compelled to do so by subpoena or in defiance of a White House order to not appear. I should know, as I was one of them. Not once did anyone even remotely suggest that I not comply. In the Obama Administration, we understood that Congress had a critical constitutional role to play in the functioning of our democratic government, no matter what it’s motivations. We just didn’t understand how deeply corrupted House Republican’s intentions were.
Their willingness to smear State Department personnel had no boundaries.
Which leads us to impeachment today, and the hypocritical mistreatment of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. She has been smeared by the president’s allies and the president himself, and left unprotected by the current Secretary of State–the same Mike Pompeo who, when in Congress, had eviscerated the Obama State Department for not preventing Ambassador Stevens’ killing.
Pompeo’s actions back then, as now, make it clear that he prioritized politics over national security.
This was made clear by Yovanovitch when she described how she was recalled from her post. The threat wasn’t coming from a foreign actor. As she testified, she felt it was coming from the president of the United States. And Pompeo was nowhere to be found to protect her from that threat.
No one should be surprised that this fiasco has been facilitated by Mulvaney and Pompeo, now in the Trump Administration. They and their colleagues still on the Hill—Graham, Meadows, Jordan, Nunes, and McCarthy—see American diplomats and security assistance as tools to take down their domestic political opponents first, and our country’s foreign adversaries second, if ever.
That’s what a shadow foreign policy is all about.
Perhaps that’s why they’re howling now. Because unlike during Benghazi, when they controlled the levers of congressional power and shaped the public narrative, they aren’t running the congressional show anymore and have to explain themselves and their actions. They have to answer the hard questions.
As is typical of those harboring a guilty conscience, neither Pompeo nor Mulvaney want to speak out. Instead, they hide while the State Department career professionals willing to obey their oaths of office and fealty to the Constitution testify openly to the American people, shining light on the darkness of this episode.
Joel Rubin was a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs in the Obama Administration and publicly testified to the Benghazi Select Committee in 2015.