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The Benghazi Committee's Out of Control Effort to Destroy Hillary Clinton at All Costs

The Benghazi investigation was never about getting to the bottom of what actually happened. It was always a dirt-digging operation, a wild search for some hint of scandal that could stop Barack Obama from being re-elected, and, when that failed, stop Hillary Clinton from succeeding him.
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Former Secretary of State and Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton testifies to the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 22, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Former Secretary of State and Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton testifies to the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 22, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

The following is David Brock's Oct. 21, 2015 speech at the World Affairs Council in Philadelphia in advance of Secretary Hillary Clinton's testimony to the House Select Committee on Benghazi.

Two years ago tomorrow, Media Matters published a book called The Benghazi Hoax in which we exposed how Republicans had twisted the facts, invented charges out of thin air, and dishonored the memory of four brave Americans who died in Benghazi in their attempt to turn a national tragedy into a political weapon.

Last month, I published Killing the Messenger, a book whose subtitle is: The Right-Wing Plot to Derail Hillary and Hijack Your Government. The centerpiece of the book is about the centerpiece of that plot: a partisan witch hunt that began with the despicable politicization of a terrorist attack on the United States and has since spiraled into a desperate fishing expedition and completely out of control effort to destroy Hillary Clinton at all costs.

Today, Secretary Clinton will testify before the Benghazi Select Committee, as she has been asking to do for months. She's been called not because of the committee's concerns about diplomatic security, but about her emails.

Clinton's use of a personal email account as Secretary of State followed the law and followed precedent. It has nothing to do with Benghazi, as the committee chairman himself has admitted.

But to Republicans, it doesn't matter. As I detail in Killing the Messenger, the Benghazi investigation was never about getting to the bottom of what actually happened. It was always a dirt-digging operation, a wild search for some hint of scandal that could stop Barack Obama from being re-elected, and, when that failed, stop Hillary Clinton from succeeding him.

And in the days that followed my book's release, Republicans started to finally admit it.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy didn't just acknowledge the Benghazi hoax, he boasted about it.

"Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?" he crowed. "But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping." The GOP's goal, McCarthy added in his mangled English, was to paint Clinton as "untrustable."

Then another Republican Congressman, Richard Hanna, confessed that the committee was "designed to go after" Hillary.

And last week, Republican officials told the New York Times that the committee began focusing on emails because Speaker of the House John Boehner thought it was "a way to keep the issue alive and to cause political problems for her campaign."

Meanwhile, a whistleblower emerged from within the committee staff: a former investigator, Air Force Reserve officer, and self-described conservative Republican named Bradley Podliska.

Major Podliska told CNN of the absurdity of life on the Benghazi committee. Staffers regularly wasted time online and sometimes drank on the job. Several joined a "gun buying club," whiling away the hours at the office designing personalized weapons -- "chrome-plated, monogrammed, Tiffany-style Glock 9-millimeters," to be exact.

He also reported that the committee "trained its sights almost exclusively on Clinton" following news reports on her emails. And he revealed that he had been fired for refusing to go along -- which would make his firing unlawful.

The committee responded by attacking Podliska as a "lousy employee" and divulging details of his employment -- which is also against the law, in this case the Congressional Accountability Act, which prohibited the committee from making public the details of the ongoing mediation surrounding Podliska's firing.

Indeed, this response was just the kind of thing you'd expect from a political war room, which is exactly what the Benghazi Select Committee is.

Over its 17 months in operation -- longer than the investigations into the Kennedy assassination, the Iran-Contra scandal, or even Watergate -- the committee has taken on a role as a taxpayer-funded arm of the Republican National Committee, spending $4.6 million of your money and careening from subject to subject in an attempt to manufacture scandal.

Well, they succeeded, alright. As MSNBC's Steve Benen wrote, "The Benghazi Committee isn't investigating a scandal. The Benghazi Committee is the scandal." What's been discovered so far is an abuse of Congressional power, leaking and lying to the press, and alleged violations of several laws and Congressional rules. And the perpetrator is none other than the chairman of this sham investigation, Trey Gowdy.

Now, if you want to know how we got here, you have to go all the way back to the 1970s.

The Watergate scandal still sticks in Republicans' craw. And they've been trying to avenge it ever since.

As many of you know, I was working deep in the heart of the vast right-wing conspiracy when Bill Clinton rose to national prominence during the 1992 campaign. Funded by the billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, we were determined to find the scandal that would bring down this dynamic young Democrat -- or, failing that, invent one.

Conservatives managed to get a story written in the New York Times alleging that the Clintons had given improper favors to their investment partner in a failed land deal called Whitewater.

The story didn't show any wrongdoing by the Clintons, and a CNN analysis would later identify nineteen separate errors of fact in it.

But when Bill Clinton became president, Republicans saw it as an opportunity to even the score at one disgraced president per side. And, hey, if they could take down his formidable wife at the same time? Even better.

Fact finding wasn't the goal. Whitewater was about the journey, not the destination: an investigation would mean getting subpoena power to ask all manner of questions, request all manner of documents, spread innuendo, leak juicy factoids to friendly or gullible reporters -- and then hold up those same stories as proof that the investigation needed to continue, or even widen.

That's how the Whitewater story gave birth to a highly-politicized $70 million federal investigation of the Clintons, led by an overzealous prosecutor, Ken Starr. Along the way, Starr found plenty of excuses to continually expand his failed investigation until he could gin up spurious impeachment charges.

Which, of course, was the goal from the beginning. From Day One, it was a search for a crime that could fit the punishment Republicans had already resolved to impose.


More than a decade later came the night of September 11, 2012, and news of an attack on an American diplomatic facility in Libya.

Note that there had been 64 attacks on American diplomatic targets overseas during the Bush administration -- and Democrats hadn't used any of them to play politics.

In fact, never before -- dating back to Ronald Reagan -- had a tragedy like this been fodder for a political attack from either party. But Mitt Romney's campaign was desperate.

And so, on the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and well before all the facts were in regarding the unfolding events in Libya, Romney flat out accused the president of "sympathizing" with terrorists. How disgraceful.

And then the entire right-wing machine revved up to turn Benghazi into the magic bullet that would wreck the Obama administration.

Indeed, there is an untold back story to today's ill-conceived and unsavory GOP smear tactics. After the 2010 midterms, a shadowy organization called Groundswell, a sort of coordinating body for a whole host of right-wing groups led the Heritage Foundation's Ginni Thomas -- the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas -- began secretly meeting. A recording of the group's deliberations, published by Mother Jones, shows that, after the Benghazi attack, they began agitating for a special Congressional investigation. They formed the Benghazi Action Committee to push that agenda forward. On March 5, 2014, the activists signed a letter to Boehner urging the appointment of a select committee, which the speaker did, on May 2.

Among members of the BAC was Judicial Watch, a right-wing group that for years, going back to the 1990s, has engaged in a campaign of legal terrorism against the Clintons, bombarding them with frivolous lawsuits and document demands.

Also in the coalition was a group called the Citizens' Committee on Benghazi, a project of the long-time right-wing media watchdog Accuracy in Media. One of its board members was Wayne Simmons, who you may have seen on Fox News touting his 27 years of CIA experience to demand Congressional action on Benghazi. You won't be seeing Simmons anymore, though -- last week, he was arrested for fraud. Simmons never worked for the CIA.

Speaking of Fox, the network was also an important driver of events, airing 1,098 evening segments on Benghazi in the first twenty months after the attacks. Senator John McCain proclaimed that Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes "deserves credit" for the Benghazi investigation, and Senator Lindsay Graham cheered, "Thank God for Fox!"

Never mind that by the spring of 2014, six Congressional committees had released reports detailing the results of their exhaustive investigations. Two other committees had also held hearings. And, that fall, the Republican House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence would release its own report, making it the ninth congressional committees to investigate the attacks.

And not one of them found any evidence to verify the far-flung theories of the far right. There was no stand-down order that prevented the saving of lives, no deliberate effort to mislead the public about the motive behind the attack, no muzzled whistleblowers, no cover-up -- nothing.

More than 30 hearings, 200 witnesses, eleven published reports totaling nearly 800 pages, and millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars -- the most recent estimate is at least $20 million overall -- and the Republicans still hadn't found any wrongdoing.

In her prior Congressional testimony, in January 2013, Clinton said she took responsibility for the events in Libya, took immediate action to guard against such attacks in the future, and was transparent throughout, even releasing to the public the full report of State's Accountability Review Board investigation. Even a Fox News commentator concluded she "hit the ball out of the park."

Yet, clearly, it was time for yet another Benghazi committee. But why?


From the moment she left the State Department, Republicans knew what Democrats also knew -- that Clinton would be an almost unprecedentedly strong candidate, and, as president, would implement an ambitious progressive vision to move the country forward.

So three and a half years before Election Day, with so much unknown about how the race would shape up, Republicans knew one thing: They really, really didn't want to run against Hillary. So they moved to take her down.

The right-wing billionaires Charles and David Koch, the Richard Mellon Scaifes of our time, pledged to spend whatever it took from their bottomless treasure chest to defeat Hillary.

One thing I'll say about the Koch Brothers: they plan ahead. They groomed Trey Gowdy for his star turn and they couldn't have found themselves a better pawn to serve as this generation's Ken Starr.

Gowdy owes his political livelihood to the Koch brothers. Five years ago, when an incumbent Republican Congressman from South Carolina named Bob Inglis wandered off the reservation by acknowledging that climate change is a real threat, the Kochs backed Gowdy -- then a County Solicitor -- to run against Inglis in a primary, helping him win a stunning upset victory.

They've gotten their money's worth. In 2012, Gowdy was one of just 40 members of the House to receive a 100 percent score from the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity, a perfect score he has maintained throughout this Congress, as well. He backed measures to expand offshore drilling -- including off the coast of South Carolina -- a key Koch priority. And, to this day, the Kochs remain his second-largest career donor.

So Gowdy was the ideal candidate to run this show trial and help achieve the Kochs' number-one goal: keeping Hillary Clinton out of the White House.

That was Gowdy's mission from Day One, one that has elevated his reputation in Republican ranks.

Conservative operative Bill Kristol has declared Gowdy "the Most Valuable Republican of the 2016 election cycle so far." In the last few weeks, Gowdy was being floated as a candidate to move up to Majority Leader or even Speaker. Donald Trump said he'd make Gowdy his Attorney General, and Lindsey Graham said he should be on the Supreme Court someday. There was even talk about Gowdy ending up on a presidential ticket. Quite a rise from County Solicitor in just five years.


Initially, Chairman Gowdy pledged to run a non-partisan fact-finding inquiry. "I have no friends to reward," he said, "and no foes to punish. We're going to go wherever the facts take us."

This was a lie.

Before he was even appointed, and long before Kevin McCarthy let the cat out of the bag, Gowdy sat down for a little-noticed interview with none other than Ginni Thomas, a key player in the original effort to politicize Benghazi, published in the right-wing Daily Caller. In it, Gowdy pre-judged the entire inquiry, stating flatly that he believed Hillary Clinton had committed unspecified crimes, and that he was certain she was ready to perjure herself before Congress.

In other words, the fix was in from the first bang of his gavel.

For example: Six months into the committee's work, Democratic Ranking Member Elijah Cummings wrote to Gowdy that Democrats were being wrongly excluded, pointing to at least five witness interviews that took place without Democratic members or staff allowed to be present.

Moreover, Cummings noted that Gowdy was consistently downplaying or outright hiding information gained from these secret interviews that might undermine his trumped-up case against Clinton.

Gowdy has steadfastly refused to adopt committee rules that give the Democratic minority a voice in its proceedings -- or even a heads-up about what Republican members and staff are doing.

In addition, Gowdy established a pattern of abusing his authority to issue subpoenas without debate, and even without a vote, dictating the course of the investigation himself without input from the Democratic minority.

Meanwhile, Gowdy consistently refused to provide full public transcripts of secret witness interviews, or even allow for a committee vote on disclosing them. Instead, he and his henchmen leaked cherry-picked excerpts to skew the news.

Committee leaks, in fact, were behind two blockbuster New York Times stories -- one suggesting that Hillary Clinton's use of a private email account may have violated federal law, and the other that a federal criminal investigation into her email practices was underway. Both of these stories were based on false information, and had to be corrected or retracted. Yet both of them dominated the news cycle and set off fevered speculation about the imminent collapse of Hillary's presidential hopes.

Earlier this month, Gowdy made a new accusation against Clinton, alleging that she had received the name of a CIA informant in an email from former Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal. "Armed with that information," Gowdy charged, "she forwarded that email to a colleague -- debunking her claim that she never sent any classified information from her private e-mail address."

Gowdy made sure to underscore that "the name of a human source is some of the most protected information in our intelligence community, the release of which could jeopardize not only national security but human lives." He released a copy of the email with the name of the individual in question redacted, making it look even more like Hillary was sharing classified information over her private email.

Gowdy got the headlines he wanted -- such as "Clinton Burns CIA Libya Contact" -- but he didn't get his facts straight. The CIA, which Gowdy hadn't bothered to ask about the email, slapped down Gowdy's claim as false, saying that in fact the information in that email was not classified at all. It turns out, Gowdy had doctored the document, inventing his own reasons for the redactions in order to defame Clinton.

Gowdy's false claims were made in a communication to members of Congress, making him vulnerable to a referral to the Department of Justice for the criminal act of lying to Congress.


By now, Trey Gowdy is very far away from his original mission.

Indeed, last week, the New York Times reported that eight months after Gowdy announced he planned to hold a dozen interviews with intelligence and national security officials, only one has actually been conducted. Gowdy had also proposed eleven public hearings about the attacks; not one has taken place.

Instead, in an effort to shift the focus from Benghazi to Hillary's email, the committee has demanded testimony from at least 18 former Clinton staffers, including three speechwriters and the IT guy who maintained Hillary's server.

And last week, the Huffington Post noticed something else peculiar.

The Benghazi Select Committee has held a total of 54 witness interviews, but Gowdy himself has showed up for fewer than ten. He skipped hearings featuring testimony from top intelligence officials. He no-showed hearings featuring survivors of the attacks, eyewitnesses to the events the committee was supposed to be investigating. In fact, the only times Gowdy bothered to show up were when those close to Clinton were testifying.

One of Gowdy's very first subpoenas went to Sidney Blumenthal, who was grilled in a closed deposition for nine hours. The committee has been pursuing a loony conspiracy theory that Blumenthal instigated the war in Libya and that he did it in order to profit. But it turns out that Gowdy is lying about a humanitarian aid idea, an idea that was raised in the middle of the war, never came to pass, and no money ever changed hands. Secretary Clinton is expected to be quizzed on all this tomorrow, even though Blumenthal was asked -- and he answered -- every question put to him about it.

The committee also pursued a wholly out of bounds line of questioning about Blumenthal's political activities and relationships.

According to a count of the questions Blumenthal was asked, made public by Democrats on the committee, Blumenthal fielded more than 160 questions about his relationship and communications with the Clintons; more than 50 questions about the Clinton Foundation, for which Blumenthal had consulted; and more than 45 questions about the inner workings of the organizations I run, for which Blumenthal works, and which have been critical of the committee. Blumenthal was asked zero questions about the U.S. presence and personnel in Benghazi.

It's no wonder that Gowdy refuses to release the transcript of Blumenthal's deposition.

Just the other day, Gowdy, trying to deflect questions about the committee's partisanship, appeared on CBS' Face the Nation and claimed he wasn't at all interested in the Clinton Foundation, which obviously has nothing to do with Benghazi. Yet he asked Blumenthal more than 50 questions about it. Simply put, Gowdy seemed to be lying through his teeth.


Unfortunately for Trey Gowdy, the press is starting to wake up to his shenanigans. The New York Times ran an editorial two weeks ago, declaring his committee "an insult to the memory of four slain Americans," and calling for it to be shut down.

Yesterday, on CNN, another committee member, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, touted the emails of the Ambassador in Libya who lost his life in the Benghazi attacks as a new revelation the committee will release tomorrow. But the anchor, Chris Cuomo, pointed out that the emails had been available to the Accountability Review Board three years ago. Westmoreland then impugned the integrity of the Board, which was headed by two officials who had served Republican administrations in high posts.

And so it goes. To be sure, there's no reason to keep this farce going. With Secretary Clinton scheduled to testify tomorrow, however, it may be too late in the day for the committee to disband altogether. But if the public is to have any confidence in this committee's findings, Gowdy should resign his chairmanship immediately. Gowdy must go.

Next, there ought to be an investigation into the Benghazi hoax itself. And Gowdy should spend his freed up time as the star witness.

For example: House rules prohibit the use of official resources for campaign or political purposes. If Gowdy used $4.6 million to further the aims of the Republican National Committee, he is guilty of an extremely serious, career-ending ethics violation.

And when we're done with that investigation, let's take a look at the suspicious activities of some of the right-wing groups devoted to defeating Hillary in 2016 that seemed to be awfully in sync with Gowdy's committee.

We still don't know the details of the committee's interactions with partisan Republican groups hyping the pseudo-scandal in their own communications. But there are some tantalizing clues. The chairman of the Benghazi Action Committee referred to his group as an "asset" of the committee's.

In September 2014, a group called Stop Hillary PAC delivered more than 260,000 signatures to the committee demanding that Gowdy subpoena Hillary to testify. The next day, Gowdy began the process to do just that. Then the PAC emailed its list soliciting campaign funds to "support Trey Gowdy." Sounds like the sort of thing the Federal Elections Commission might be interested in.

In April 2015, Stop Hillary PAC ran ads soliciting contributions using Gowdy's name and picture and identifying him as chairman of the Benghazi committee. A month later, the group delivered another petition to Gowdy "to express our gratitude and support."

As the Washington Post reported, the PAC's treasurer, Dan Backer, previously served as treasurer of a now-defunct fundraising committee affiliated with Gowdy. He is also treasurer of three other political action committees that each donated to Gowdy's campaign in May.

Last Friday, Gowdy, caught red-handed, returned the donations.

And why stop there? The misuse of taxpayer dollars doesn't just violate House ethics rules, it may violate federal law. In 1993, a former House employee pled guilty to a charge of theft of government property after he was caught doing campaign work on the taxpayers' dime. And I can't imagine the damage to taxpayers then was even close to $4.6 million.


Trey Gowdy may be the Ken Starr of his generation. But even that may be too generous an assessment of his legacy.

Sixty years ago, there was another Republican legislator who turned an oversight investigation into a nightmarish political travesty, trampling on Constitutional rights and engaging in repeated and serious abuses of power in his quest to destroy his perceived enemies.

When the extent of his malfeasance was exposed, he was censured by the Senate, shunned by his own party, and sent home to live out the rest of his days in infamy.

Joseph McCarthy managed to find a communist or two. All Gowdy has done is besmirch the memory of four dead Americans while betraying the public trust.

Gowdy deserves to sit down to a banquet of consequences. Our country simply cannot function if this is how one of the two major political parties chooses to compete for power.

Sixty years after McCarthy disgraced the Senate, we remember him as an ugly example of Congressional power run amok for partisan gain, never to be repeated.

Let's hope it doesn't take 60 years for Trey Gowdy and the rest of the Benghazi hoaxsters to meet the same fate.

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