This week, your House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will bring us the latest in l'affaire Benghazi with a set of hearings titled "Exposing Failure And Recognizing Courage." So, failures will be exposed, courage will be recognized, and everything will be compared to Watergate, because why not?
“I believe that before it’s all over, this president will not fill out his full term. I know that puts me on a limb,” the former Arkansas governor said on “The Mike Huckabee Show.” “But this is not minor. It wasn’t minor when Richard Nixon lied to the American people and worked with those in his administration to cover-up what really happened in Watergate. But, I remind you — as bad as Watergate was, because it broke the trust between the president and the people, no one died. This is more serious because four Americans did in fact die.”
Of course, this is not so much a prediction as it is an urging -- what Huckabee really wants is for Republican voters to turn out in about a year-and-a-half's time to allow the GOP to retain control of the House and perhaps re-take the Senate, saying, “If [the Democrats are] able to get control of the House and maintain the Senate, this will not happen because they won’t let it happen." This melodramatic Watergate paean is really just bog-standard election-year pre-gaming.
Still, this is Washington, and everything is always the next Watergate. To wit:
Operation Fast And Furious Is The Next Watergate. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.): "This is like Iran Contra, like Watergate, and other embarrassments over the years ... The major embarrassment is the delay in being honest and open about it. It’s not about something really dumb got done. Dumb things happen in government. But when the GSA did dumb things, once it became public we saw a pretty quick change, certainly Secret Service we saw an even quicker change."
Solyndra Is The Next Watergate. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), on Fox News back in November 2011: "This is more than just a simple Washington scandal; this is a historic scandal, because the president had his own political fund-raiser placed in the Department of Energy for the specific purpose of pointing to which loans would benefit his political donors. ... It just stinks on every level. This makes Watergate look like child’s play, Megyn. This is where the White House has to answer questions. There's emails from the White House. They have to be involved."
Fun fact: The stuff that doesn't quite rise to the level of being the "next Watergate" usually gets tagged as "the next Solyndra" as a consolation prize.
The Department of Homeland Security's FOIA Process Is The Next Watergate. Per NBC News:
On Capitol Hill this morning, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, grilled Department of Homeland Security FOIA professionals, claiming that political appointees obstructed the widely used tool for gaining access to government documents.
The hearing centered on a delayed request filed by the Associated Press, which was investigating how DHS handles FOIA requests. Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) repeatedly accused DHS of forwarding FOIA requests -- by certain media organizations and then minority members of Congress -- to political appointees within the department to review and redact the desired documents.
"This reeks of a Nixonian enemies list," Issa quipped.
Fun fact: A proposal to "require companies seeking government contracts to disclose contributions -- including those that otherwise would have been secret -- to groups that air political ads attacking or supporting candidates," was also deemed by Issa to be a "a Nixonian-type enemies list."
Whatever Job The Obama White House Offered Joe Sestak To Not Run Against Arlen Specter Was Also Totally Watergate, Probably. Issa, again: “The bottom line is if the White House continues to stonewall Congress and the American people, I will petition the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to launch an investigation into the allegation. In the meantime, I fear we're in for more obtuse and evasive statements from administration officials. In that case, the White House will be falling back on a concerted scheme and cover-up strategy not seen in Washington since the days of Watergate.”
Richard Painter at Legal Ethics Forum eyerolled, "This ... is nothing new and it hardly rises to the level of a major ethics controversy."
So, what to expect from the Benghazi hearings? Any talk of rescue missions that were sidelined or waylaid by the White House will have to be a lot more plausible than the stories that Thomas Ricks has already pooh-poohed.
As with Huckabee's admonition, past and future elections will be the primary driver of outrage -- there will be a relitigation of the 2012 result, and a pre-ligitation of 2016. (Maybe someone will turn up the email from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that reads: "Guys, gonna buy more time with a fake concussion, kthxbai!")
While that email may not exist, the more substantive action in these hearings may come in the form of examining State Department correspondence for signs of prestidigitation over how talking points were written and rewritten in order to prevent anyone from being embarrassed. Also, the State Department's AARB (After Action Review Board) may be scrutinized to see if blame was adequately doled out. This is all worth exploring! But since the exposure of bureaucratic balderdash -- no matter how laden with substance -- doesn't rise to the level of sexiness of "the White House sat back and watched people die," the "next Watergate" comparisons feel like being on the verge of an overpromise/underdeliver scenario. (As always, I'm prepared to be surprised!)
Naturally, I wouldn't expect many inquiries on whether intervening in Libya was a smart (or legal!) thing to do in the first place, mainly because the most fervent Benghazi critics seem to want to do a "Benghazi redux" in Syria as soon as humanly possible. This is no time to start questioning the wisdom of arming sketchy rebels, establishing "no-fly zones," and promising that no "boots" shall ever, ever be put "on the ground," et cetera.
All in all, there's a possibility that Benghazi will be known as the "first Benghazi," though it could also end up being "the latest thing that someone thought would be the 'next Watergate.'" Speaking only for myself, I hope that maybe the media can, going forward, start using the suffix "-ghazi" in lieu of the suffix "-gate," because I'm bored and we could use some variety.
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