This week of the 2016 election is promising to be one of the strongest for campaign-related pseudo-events yet, as former secretary of state and presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton comes to Washington to face Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and the House Select Benghazi Hashtag Committee, in a synthetic battle royale for the ages. As is tradition in Washington, Gowdy is already setting the stage -- and managing expectations -- in a Politico interview, like so:
“I would say in some ways these have been among the worst weeks of my life,” Gowdy said this weekend during a lengthy interview with POLITICO. “Attacks on your character, attacks on your motives, are 1,000-times worse than anything you can do to anybody physically — at least it is for me.”
It's strange to hear Gowdy testify that attacks on his character are 1,000 times worse than actual bodily harm, considering that most of these "attacks" are merely Clinton loyalists defending her against his committee's charges that she's personally responsible for the deaths of four people. The remainder of Gowdy's extant torments are all coming in the form of self-inflicted wounds that have impaled his committee's credibility here at the outset of this climactic week. Now, Gowdy's taken his, "I just can't win" act to Politico, and the result is alternately tragic and comic. In fact, here's the most emblematic sentence in the piece:
Gowdy worked behind closed doors for 18 months in an effort to keep the committee’s work out of the political fray. But his strategy started unraveling after three Republicans suggested the committee was aimed at hurting Clinton in the polls. Democrats pounced, newspaper editorials called for the panel to be disbanded, and now there are calls from commentators of all stripes for Gowdy to reveal what he’s uncovered.
See, what makes this so ha-ha funny is that Gowdy didn't so much work "behind closed doors" to stay above "the fray," as much as he repeatedly leaked the committee's goings-on to Politico. And what makes this so boo-hoo sad is that his Republican colleagues keep selling him out as leading what amounts to a partisan witch hunt.
This paragraph also includes a fun challenge for the reader: figuring out how to feel about the "strategy" it describes. You almost feel sorry for it, because it's described as "unraveling," and it's sad when things unravel! But then you remember that this "strategy" never actually existed in the first place, and then it's hard to get too emotional about it. I guess this is the part of the Politico story where you "choose your own adventure."
The way Gowdy presents himself in this piece, you'd almost think that he was the victim of the story, instead of the guy trying to keep the plot moving. He's described as "frustrated" and "defeated" and "weary," having forsaken "watching the news and reading the newspaper." He's upset about the criticism that's been sent his way, but he is, we are told, "refusing to change his strategy just because he’s getting buried by negative coverage." And the interesting thing about that sentence, is that if it were at all true, then the article in which it has been written would not exist.
Also, Gowdy has apparently decided that "factcentric" is a word now.
The interesting thing, of course, is for all of Gowdy's weariness and discontent that he's taken fire from Clinton loyalists, his recent problems have come in the form of he and his team racking up own-goals. First it was Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the would-be House speaker, who intimated in a Fox News interview that the main point of Gowdy's committee was to damage Clinton politically.
McCarthy was made to walk this back, but it wasn't long before another Republican lawmaker, Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) was saying the same thing, "This may not be politically correct, but I think that there was a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after people and an individual, Hillary Clinton."
Since then, the matter's gotten even more complicated, with one of the committee's own former investigators, Maj. Bradley Podliska, coming forward to insist that the committee was, in fact, dedicated almost entirely to wrecking Clinton's electoral hopes. (Gowdy characterizes Podliska in Politico as a "disgruntled ex-employee," seemingly unaware of the fact that Podliska's already copped to his own lack of gruntlement.)
And over the weekend, there was a fresh howler from Gowdy and company, after the committee was informed by the Central Intelligence Agency that an email between Sidney Blumenthal and Clinton that had been held up "as a prime example of her misusing her private email server to receive and send highly classified information," was not that, at all. As Michael Isikoff reported:
The email was sent by her close friend and adviser Sidney Blumenthal and forwarded by Clinton to an aide. It contained the “name of a human source” for the CIA in Libya and was therefore “some of the most protected information in our intelligence community, the release of which could jeopardize not only national security but human lives,” Gowdy wrote in an Oct. 7 letter.
But late Saturday night, a CIA official informed the committee that the agency does not view that email, among 127 previously undisclosed messages sent by Blumenthal to Clinton that the panel plans to release this week, as having any portions that need to be redacted because they include classified information.
Gowdy objected, and during his ensuing show of concern, in which he vowed that he was "committed to protecting the source's identity, even if the CIA was not," he released the email in question with his own redactions. There was, however, a snag: turns out Gowdy is not that good at keeping sensitive information safe either. As Politico subsequently reported:
The email posted Sunday on the panel's website included in one instance the name of Mousa Kousa, a former Libyan government spy chief and foreign minister. The name appeared to have been redacted in several other instances, but was included in a subject line of a forwarded email.
Hey, good effort, anyway. But lest you think it's all gone south for Gowdy, rest assured, it hasn't, by his own admission:
On Friday, while all of Washington was focused on Abedin’s Benghazi testimony, Gowdy was examining a batch of emails from slain U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, messages he says no committee has ever read.
This is the part of this job he still loves, poring through documents to come up with questions, “looking at ways to put the puzzle together.”
Well, you know, as long as this is still fun for someone.
In the end, it's too bad that Gowdy's not been watching the news or reading the papers, because if he'd been doing so, he might have hit on a way to redeem his committee's work by pressing Clinton on the demonstrably more important matter of whether the Libyan intervention itself -- which was sold by the Obama administration as a necessity -- wasn't actually a terrible foreign policy cock-up. It was just last week at the debate in Las Vegas that Clinton touted the first "free election" in Libya "since 1951" and referred to the intervention as "smart power at its best."
It could be a more valuable use of everyone's time to litigate the way in which Libya has become the basket case of a nation that it now is. That would revive this committee's purpose and transform this week's tête-à-tête with Clinton into something more than a campaign pseudo-event. But to get there, Gowdy's going to have to stop weeping over his puzzle pieces, and get down to it.
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