Nearly fifteen years ago, the Independent Counsel Law lapsed after controversies concerning overzealous prosecutors like Kenneth Starr -- who had an unlimited budget and little accountability. Today, we face a similar specter of an untethered investigation: the so-called "Select Committee on Benghazi."
On May 8, 2014, the House of Representatives established the Committee and authorized it to investigate the September 11, 2012 attack on United States facilities in Benghazi, Libya. The Committee was created even though the Benghazi incident had already been thoroughly investigated by seven other congressional committees and an independent Accountability Review Board, none of which found evidence of wrongdoing by American officials.
Nearly every Democrat, myself included, voted against the resolution authorizing the Select Committee. I did so because I believed it was time to look forward, not backward. I believed it was time to work on implementing the many recommendations coming out of these prior investigations in order to enhance the safety of diplomats serving overseas. Many of us also believed that the real reason behind the establishment of the Select Committee was to target former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who, at that time, was rumored to be considering a presidential run.
Unfortunately, our fears have proven to be well-founded. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) recently admitted during a Fox News interview that "... we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping..." McCarthy, the one-time presumed replacement for House Speaker, has since removed himself from that race, admitting at a press conference that his Benghazi statement "didn't help" his chances of assuming that role.
This past summer, the Select Committee fired Major Bradley Podliska, an intelligence officer in the Air Force Reserve who worked as an investigator for ten months before he was terminated. Major Bradley now alleges that he was under intense pressure to target Secretary Clinton. He claims that the Select Committee is "pursuing a partisan investigation" and that he was fired, at least in part, for trying to conduct his responsibilities in a fact-based, objective manner.
Earlier this month, the Select Committee passed the mark and became the longest and one of the least active congressional investigations in history. It has held only three hearings in more than sixteen months. It has spent approximately 4.7 million taxpayer dollars. If it continues to spend at this rate, the House of Representatives will have spent more on the Select Committee than it will on education, scientific research, or veterans.
In particular, over the last several months, the Select Committee appears to have run aground over an issue that has absolutely no connection to the attacks in Benghazi: the use of a personal email account by Secretary Clinton, including the handling of classified information. There may be legitimate questions about this practice -- which was widespread at all levels of government until just a few years ago -- but they have nothing to do with the Select Committee. Moreover, the Select Committee appears ill-equipped to handle the subject matter for at least two reasons.
First, the Select Committee itself mishandled classified materials transmitted by email. On August 21, the New York Times, Politico, and others reported that the Select Committee had handled several classified emails on a unsecure system. Given the uncertainty of the classification process -- these emails appear not to have been deemed classified when the Select Committee first possessed them -- I cannot presume any bad faith on the part of Select Committee. However, the incident highlights the open-ended and malleable nature of the panel's investigation, given that substantially identical allegations -- retaining an email subsequently designated as classified after receipt on an unsecure server -- has been leveled by Select Committee Republicans at Secretary Clinton.
The aftermath of the disclosure also illustrates the problems with the Committee's lack of transparency. While the Minority staff for the Select Committee acknowledged that they were "instructed that it needed to move the document from unclassified computer systems and files to classified computer systems and files," the Majority has as of yet failed to acknowledge the discrepancy. Their spokesperson was only willing to acknowledge that its "system and server for handling classified information in electronic format was subjected to and passed a year of painstaking planning, documentation, and review by numerous security and IT professionals in the Intelligence Community." Left unsaid was why the Select Committee was pursuing a charge against Secretary Clinton -- the good faith retention of subsequently reclassified emails -- that seems to apply equally to themselves.
Second, the Select Committee appears to have intentionally leaked classified information for political ends. We know that one of the emails highlighted as inappropriate for Secretary Clinton to have on her unsecured server was leaked to the New York Times in full, unredacted form in May. This was followed by a false and inaccurate leak to the New York Times in late July, suggesting that Secretary Clinton was a target of a criminal referral by the Inspector General. These leaks are hard to square with Select Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy's statement that "serious investigations do not leak information or make selective releases of information without full and proper context." Yet, as it presently stands, there is no avenue to obtain accountability by the Select Committee on this or any other matter, just as there has been no accounting for the millions of dollars in taxpayer funds it has spent or how little work it has performed.
The disclosure that the Select Committee appears to have retained classified emails on a unsecure server, Rep. McCarthy's blunt admission that the Select Committee is merely a taxpayer-funded political ploy, and the latest revelation of partisan inner workings by a former investigator offers Majority leadership a chance to step back and recognize that its mandate has been long satisfied. I know Chairman Gowdy to be a fair and principled Member, and would therefore urge him to dissolve the Select Committee and get back to doing the business of the American people. As presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders stated to Secretary Clinton last night, "The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails!"