I watched several minutes of Fox during the breaks in the Clinton Benghazi testimony, just to see how they were going to spin things, and all day it seemed matters weren’t proceeding all that swimmingly from the Fox perspective. But the capper came at 4 p.m., when Shep Smith said that his big gripe of the day was that he and his staff had ordered wings at 3 p.m. and they were supposed to be there at 3:20 and hadn’t arrived yet. Smith is known for his occasional departures from orthodoxy over the years, but I somehow doubt that if some of Hillary Clinton’s blood had been in the water at 4 o’clock, he’d have been joking about lunch.
It says all that needs to be said that Fox, alone among the cable nets, pulled the plug on its live coverage in the 5 p.m. hour. But this is not to say that Clinton scorched the committee. I actually thought that in his morning questioning, Kansas Republican Mike Pompeo was reasonably effective. He established what you might call an interrogatory narrative: His questions led somewhere, had a point to them. He showed that Clinton and others at the State Department didn’t respond to requests from Chris Stevens for more security, and this was the only moment when I thought, ah, there’s something the Republicans can maybe take away from this—this line of questioning can produce an attack ad down the road that will question her competence and ask voters if this is really the person they want to put in the Oval Office.
A lot of the other questioning was just embarrassing—to the questioner, to the Republican Party, to the House of Representatives, and alas to the country. What was with that business from Peter Roskam of Illinois in the afternoon about how the State Department’s press operation was out trying to put a good face on things? She had a press secretary? In Washington?! Da noive a dat gal.
Jim Jordan of Ohio asked these video questions. First of all, she did not tell her family one thing and the American people another. Her statement said “some say” it was the video. That’s not an assertion. It was impossible to figure out where Jordan was going with this. He was trying to “prove” some kind of lie, but a) it was a moment of enormous confusion, b) the CIA changed its assessment, which is well documented from previous investigations, and c) even if someone did lie, that will never be proven, so it was an utterly pointless line of questioning, a complete waste of time substantively and even politically.
And these Sid Blumenthal questions. Oy. Blumenthal is a friend for a long time, so take this for what you consider it to be worth, but let me put it this way: I guess asking a cabinet official a bunch of questions about a person that 99.8 percent of America hasn’t heard of can be damning, in theory. I suppose 90-something percent of Americans hadn’t heard of Frank Sturgis during the Watergate hearings. But Sturgis was a criminal. Blumenthal is a guy who was sending his friend emails. You can think he sent too many, you can question if you want that he was even doing it in the first place, but sending emails to someone you’ve known for 30 years isn’t a crime.
It’s actually quite surprising to me that Trey Gowdy didn’t have anyone in his circle who could look him in the eye and tell him that every minute he spent on Blumenthal was a minute he was wasting—and losing. The more alarming possibility of course is that he did have such a person and didn’t listen. Nothing’s worse than a politician who believes his own good press.
Clinton did very clearly win the Marshall McLuhan, volume-down battle—she looked composed, if sometimes annoyed and bored, while the Republicans turned up the oven way too hot. Gowdy came in gangbusters from jump street. Susan Brooks of Indiana, the one with the stacks of emails that were supposed to prove something—too prosecutorial. Roskam and Jordan—way too huffy, interrupting her. Jordan—that dude needs meds. He’s like a character from Bob Newhart’s old group-therapy session. Mr. Carlin’s surlier little brother.
Will this “turn things around”? Probably not; haters gonna hate and all that. But letdown after a massive buildup of an event that amounts to very little in the end is among the most natural of human emotions. Even Gowdy was at a loss for what the whole spectacle accomplished. I would bet that over the next few days, you might see a few blue- or purple-state Republicans start to say, however euphemistically, that it may be time to wind this baby down. Editors whose Benghazi reporters come to them suggesting fresh story angles are going to start yawning and asking if they’ve got anything else. So she’ll benefit, a little. (It should not be left unsaid, by the way, how hard it is to keep your poise in a roomful of poseurs for that many hours.)
Yes, there are three more email tranches coming, but given that the big news out of the last dump was that Clinton didn’t know what "fubar" meant, I don’t think those are going to change the narrative here. Then there’s the theory that the “real” Benghazi committee is the FBI, which is probing the handling of Clinton’s emails and, in the hearts of Clinton foes, may even be so bold as to drop an indictment on her. Obviously, that would be a rather big problem for Clinton. At that point, Joe Biden saddles up the horse.
But this committee... Americans should be enraged by it. I am, but today, watching this, I’ve mostly been feeling sad. I actually grew up kind of believing in these people. I remember being 14, 15, when my sister worked in the Rayburn House Office Building, how thrilling it was to go to the office where she worked, to walk down those halls, peek into those grand hearing rooms, think about all that history. It’s so debased now by these people, it makes me ashamed. I bet Hillary needs a drink. Well, I do too.