The Benghazi Committee is a Sham.
So many questions about Bryan Pagliano, the Clinton campaign IT guy who’s invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to testify before the Benghazi committee, and all of them—yes—swirling! Who is this guy? What’s he hiding? What did he know, and when did he know it? Egad. Trouble with a capital T.
And here’s another question about Pagliano, one that I bet maybe hasn’t occurred to some of you: Why, exactly, is the committee that is investigating the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi subpoenaing an IT guy in the first place?
Now if Trey Gowdy were here, I’d imagine he could drum up some quasi-respectable seeming answers. Well, Pagliano might have wiped Benghazi-related emails from the infamous server. But in reality, I doubt the committee even cares very much what he does or does not know about Benghazi. As I wrote Wednesday, the committee now has nothing to do with Benghazi.
And Gowdy has even basically said as much. On Fox on August 16, Chris Wallace asked Gowdy what all this email business had to do with Benghazi, and Gowdy said, “Well, probably not much of anything.” He went on to try to regain his footing by asserting that “my focus is on the four murdered Americans in Benghazi, but before I can write the final definitive accounting of that, I have to make sure that the public record is complete.”
That sounds nice and innocent, but here’s what appears to be Gowdy’s idea of a complete public record. It includes making more than 40 witnesses testify—but in private, providing testimony that has not been and evidently will never be disclosed.
Some witnesses have wanted to testify in public, the better for all of us to judge, but Gowdy said no. Former Clinton aide Cheryl Mills saw her requests to testify in public this week rebuffed by the Republican majority, so she is testifying in private—complying, even though she knows very well that doing so means that her testimony will probably be leaked selectively and out of context. She will presumably demand that the full transcript be released, as Sid Blumenthal did, and the committee will say no, as it has with Blumenthal (technically, the majority has just ignored the minority’s request for a vote on the matter).
So, all these witnesses, and we’ll never know what any of them said. We’ll just be left depending on leaks from Gowdy’s investigators to the every-hungry Times. That’s some “public record.”
In the face of that, of course Pagliano is refusing to testify. I promise you, you would too. Pagliano thought bubble: “Hmmm, let’s see. I’m being offered the opportunity to go behind closed doors before a committee that already has a history of leaking stuff to make people look as bad as they can make them look in order to establish some piece of innuendo about Clinton. And I get to run up what, $50,000 or $70,000 in legal fees for the privilege? No thank you.” The Fifth Amendment applies to Pagliano every bit as much as it applies to that great American Ollie North, who invoked it back in 1986.
Ah, 1986. I pointed out the other day that this has now gone on longer than the Church Committee hearings on intelligence abuses, which in the mid-1970s dug into extremely serious systemic abuses of power by our government. Do you know also that the 1986 Iran-contra hearings, at which North pleaded the Fifth, lasted just 10 months and 13 days? The Benghazi committee, meanwhile, has now lasted for 15 months and counting. On September 24, it will pass the duration of the Watergate committee. The Watergate committee!
Oh, and by the way, the Watergate and Iran-contra committees both called upwards of 500 witnesses each. This committee has called, as noted above, around 40. Why? Well, it may be because Gowdy is an extremely judicious fellow. Or it could be because Watergate and Iran-contra investigators had actual serious work to do, probing as they were White House-based conspiracies to violate existing U.S. law, while Gowdy is obviously just fishing around on the off chance that he finds some evidence that Clinton or an aide made some classification error that can be hung around her neck.
Yes, yes, Clinton invited all this to some extent, yadda yadda. I’ve written that plenty of times. But people need to understand just how without precedent this committee is. I can’t think of a case when a Democratic congressional majority did anything like this. The investigation into the Bush administration firing of the U.S. Attorneys comes to mind, but that was handled completely differently. No special select committee was named. Those probes were just handled by the standing Judiciary committees, and it all went down fast—Congress held its first hearings in April, and by August, the hearings were done, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and others had resigned.
Gowdy will say that he has to keep his committee alive as long as the State Department is dragging its heels on turning over a few emails. Lately they’re on a mad hunt for two emails from September 29, 2012, which were about prepping Clinton for a meeting with an unnamed senator in the aftermath of the attacks. Well, at least it’s about Benghazi, in a way, although what illuminating or incriminating information could be found in an email written two-plus weeks after the attack kind of eludes me (“Remember now, Madame Secretary, DON’T mention that you ordered that the military stand down because you didn’t care if Chris Stevens died!”).
But anyway it’s a weak argument. The Bush administration too withheld many emails from Congress during the U.S. Attorneys flap, and Congress still just got on with its work as best it could. That’s what a Congress usually does—it works, a little, with the minority party, and it tries not to do anything too embarrassing to the body, tries not to precipitate a blood sport crisis. But blood sport crisis is this committee’s raison d’être. I don’t blame Pagliano a bit for not feeding them his carcass to gnaw on.