Littwin: Clinton’s Benghazi hearing: Tragedy or farce? Why choose?

If you somehow missed all 11 hours of the much-hyped, made-for-TV, Benghazi- committee grilling of Hillary Clinton, you don’t need to go to the video. I can sum it up for you in one sentence:

However low your expectations were for the House Select Committee, they were not nearly low enough.

What I mean is — and I’m asking the chair for an extra sentence — if Clinton has often been lucky in her adversaries, and she definitely has, she hit the jackpot this time.

This game was over before it began, of course. It was settled weeks ago when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy let slip in a radio interview that the entire 17-month investigation has been a politically-motivated witch hunt. But even so, I didn’t expect the committee members to be quite so dedicated to proving McCarthy right.

The 11 hours — about nine of them testimony — were a jumble of conspiracy theories, of witness badgering, of cross-party sniping, of a 7-minute shouting match between the chair and the ranking member, and, mostly, getting to the bottom of this whole Sidney Blumenthal mess. The questioning got nastier as the night went on, and on, and by the end I couldn’t decide whether to call the hearing a travesty or a farce. Either works.

(Quick wrap-up on Sid, the villain of the piece although it’s not clear what made him a villain this time: The very public Clinton friend — public in the Bill Clinton ’90s anyway – sent Hillary Clinton emails about Libya on her private account whereas Ambassador Chris Stevens didn’t know her email address, her cell phone number or her home address in case he had ever wanted to drop by. And that’s pretty much it.)

It was, as one pundit put it, an 11-hour campaign ad for Clinton, who never lost her cool as she handled a bunch of backbenchers in just the way you’d think she would. Hadn’t they watched the debate? This is what she’s good at. She was prepared, of course, and she won major points for stamina. One Democrat joked that if the hearing went much longer, Clinton would finally get to answer her 3 a.m. phone call.

And if she had the Clinton smile pasted on for all 11 hours, you could hardly blame her. It has been a good couple of weeks. She wins the debate; her poll numbers go up. Joe Biden says he won’t run; her poll numbers go up again. She takes on everything an overmatched committee can throw at her, and I’d guess her trustworthiness numbers will start to recover.

It was a gift, if you don’t count the fact that the hearing should have been about the lives that were lost or the fact that Libya has become a nightmare. That wasn’t entirely forgotten. The highlight of the testimony was Clinton’s memory of the day and night of the attack, of the loss of four Americans, of the loss of a Clinton friend, of the fog of war and of the desperation in not knowing what had happened and being unsure of what to do next.

Meanwhile, it was a political disaster for Republicans. What the committee had to do to rescue its reputation was to show they’d learned something — anything — new, something — anything — that could help us understand the Benghazi tragedy or at least understand how better to reduce the risk of another Benghazi.

Instead, we learned nothing. Don’t take my word for it. Take if from Chairman Trey Gowdy. When asked in a post-testimony press conference what he’d learned, he couldn’t come up with anything. He said — yes, he really said this — that he didn’t hear much new in Clinton’s testimony but that he’d “have to go back and look at the transcript.”

I guarantee he doesn’t want to look.

There was a game plan, I guess. It was apparently to show that Clinton was the heartless mastermind of the Libya affair, that she didn’t care enough about Stevens to get him the security he had asked for (even though Blumenthal, uh, something, something, something), that she had lost interest in Libya after Qaddafi was killed, that what she really cared about was in getting credit for Libya when it was considered a success and that she lied in the aftermath of Benghazi to protect Obama’s reelection chances. In other words, it was like any day on talk radio except that Clinton was there to answer the questions.

The problem for the committee was that there’s nothing new to be learned on Benghazi. And though it was a tragedy, it wasn’t really Clinton’s fault any more than, as Jeb! might say, 9/11 was George W. Bush’s fault. She took on each question and answered in detail that would have been embarrassing to the questioners if they could be embarrassed. The Democrats, meanwhile, spent their entire time defending Clinton, who got to appear above the fray, watching as the two sides sniped at each other.

It’s hard to pick one telling moment over 11 hours to show how pointless the day and night were, but this one might do.

It was around hour 9 when Martha Roby (R-Ala.) was asking Clinton how she spent the night of the attack. When Clinton said she went home, Roby asked, “Who else was at your home? Were you alone?” And when Clinton conceded that, yes, she was alone, Roby wanted to know, “The whole night?”

Clinton finally cracked. “Well, yes, the whole night,” she said, breaking into a loud Clinton laugh.

It  was a moment of levity for everyone except Roby, who told Clinton, “I don’t know why that’s funny.”

And after watching the entire 11-hour debacle, I’d have to say that I’m sure that’s true.

Photo credit: DonkeyHotey, Creative Commons, Flickr


  1. There was very little chance that Hillary was going to come out as anything but the winner in this thing. And she did.

    The committee is getting laughed at by their own party, which is itself in a shambles, and she is being handed the presidency by the very people who have been screaming for 30 years about how horrible it would be if SHE were ever in the office. This whole thing has been a setup to try and ruin her, and it’s making the republicans look like the clowns and political hacks they are.

    Time for the republican party to either split into two parts, the crazy part and the INSANE part, or just admit that they are too far gone to be able to even rule if they get the chance. They are so deadlocked among themselves that government is essentially shut down at this point, which ironically enough, is what the far right part of them wants, anyway.

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