The Benghazi Committee

Posted: May 06, 2014 11:30 AM
The Benghazi Committee

The selection of Congressman Trey Gowdy as Chair of the Select Committee on Benghazi by House Speaker John Boehner was the best act of the Speaker in this Congress.

Gowdy has impressed most fair observers with his preparation for prior Benghazi hearings, his careful questioning, his command of the facts and his approach to witnesses --allowing them to answer questions rather than eating up time with showboating. An experienced former state district attorney as well as a federal prosecutor for a half dozen years, Gowdy knows how to put together a case and how to assemble and mange a team. These skills will greatly benefit the country as it looks for answers as to what happened and why on 9/11/12.

The naming of Gowdy's fellow committee members and the committee's staffing will be as crucial as naming the chair. I spoke with House Rules Committee Chair Pete Sessions and a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, on Monday's radio show --transcripts and audio here-- and it is clear that the Committee will be formed at least as to its GOP members by the end of this week. National Review's Andrew C. McCarthy and the Washington Examiner's David Drucker also provided key background Monday on the considerations that will go into the filling out of the Committee's membership and its staffing, and the transcripts of those interviews will be posted here later today.

Drucker's reporting yesterday suggested some of the names to watch for:

Besides Gowdy, they include: Intelligence Committee members Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., who served as the informal panel's chairman; Oversight and Government Reform Committee member Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah; and Armed Services Committee members Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Joe Heck, R-Nev., who also serve on the Intelligence Committee.

Additionally, Boehner asked Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., to participate because of his prosecutorial background and to bring a fresh perspective. Gerlach does not serve on any of the five committees of jurisdiction that have been jointly investigating the Benghazi attack, which include the Foreign Affairs and Judiciary panels. Nunes discussed Boehner’s informal Benghazi committee on Friday during a radio interview with conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt.

All of those members bring excellent backgrounds --Chaffetz has actually been to Benghazi to see the site of the attack-- but I'd like to see some military veterans like Pompeo and/or Florida's Ron Desantis (both Pompeo and DeSantis are Harvard Law grads as well) and Illinois' Adam Kinzinger, also a veteran, added to the Committee. Too many of the questions surrounding the attack on Benghazi and the failure to get help to the embattled CIA annex there revolve around military logistics. Experienced vets on the Committee will help it through these questions and deliberations, and these Members would help the Committee ask the toughest questions of the uniformed witnesses, questions that simply don't occur to civilians who haven't had to deal with military bureaucracy and logistics. Pompeo, DeSantis and Kinzinger would also protect the men and women in the chain of command from getting blamed for the decisions of their civilian overseers by always asking for precision as to the orders received and from whom and when they were received.

Democrats have threatened to stay away from the hearings. Let them, and let them then explain to the victims, the families of the dead, and the American public why they are above asking tough questions about an obvious cover-up, a cover-up that cannot be denied now that the Rhodes memo surfaced almost a year after it was formally requested. The cover-up of the Rhodes memo is proof that the Administration has not been cooperating with any of the committees digging into the events leading up to and occurring that night and afterwards, and the memo is the sort of flare that indicates there is much more hidden away in desks that hasn't been produced yet. If House Democrats shun the proceedings they will themselves be shunned at the polls for abetting this cover-up

As McCarthy and I discussed, the choice of chief counsel, the director of communications and the director of social media for the select committee will be the three key staff choices. McCarthy suggested either George Terwilliger or Miguel Estrada as both have deep D.C. experience as well as prosecutorial chops. They would be the sort to bring the Committee the witnesses prepped and ready for examination. Hopefully the Chair will have the lawyers do a lot of the examination of witnesses in public so that there is a premium on getting the story out, not on grabbing television time by members though we can expect Democrats to grandstand and fulminate as we get closer and closer to the key questions and answers:

What did the president know that afternoon, night and the following day and when? What did he do --and not do-- during that period? Ditto for then-Secretary of State Clinton and then-Secretary of Defense Panetta, and then CIA Director Petraeus.

Five timelines running along the first timeline of events in Benghazi and Tripoli are needed, along with many others following key White House and State Department staffers through those hours and the cover-up that followed. Witnesses need to be asked with specificity as top where they were and when, who they were with and what they heard and saw done. The federal statute of limitations on perjury is five years. Eric Holder won't last long enough to protect those who lie under oath, nor those who suborn perjury.

The phones of D.C. elite criminal defense bar are already ringing if they didn't ring a year and a half ago. The cover-up of exactly what was going on in D.C. during these crucial hours and days has held for a long time. (See my interview with HRC co-author Jon Allen on how little he and his colleague Amie Parnes were able to discover about the specifics of events in that time frame. There's a reason why everyone has clammed up. The Committee needs to figure out why.)

Networks interested in serving their audience (and in their ratings) will gear up for gavel-to-gavel coverage, and begin signing up experts like McCarthy, Drucker and Townhall's Guy P. Benson to provide background and explanation as the hearings proceed. A former SEAL like Rorke Denver --a skilled communicator-- ought to be on the set back at the studio to explain the Benghazi security team's movements, and experts on the chaos that was Libya pre- and post-Benghazi should be identified and lined up both by the Committee and the networks covering the committee. The interest level is already high and will soar as the Committee organizes a coherent narrative from the scrambled stories and committee proceedings. (My interview of Jake Tapper concerning Jay Carney's Benghazi dissembling has garnered 17,000 views in five days --an interview about a press secretary! Imagine what the audience will be for the questioning of the real witnesses.)

Chairman Gowdy should also select an experienced, aggressive, television-friendly communicator for Committee spokesperson and formally name a Committee director of social media so the Committee is prepped to be responsive to all the forms of media, not just the POTUS-protecting shield wall of D.C. bureau chiefs and the ancient Sunday show's anchors.

As Pete Sessions told me yesterday, fashioning the rule that will govern the Committee is a crucial exercise because it will set the Committee's boundaries, which ought to be broad, and the scope of its power which ought to include of course the ability to subpoena without a vote of the full House. As Drucker suggested, an early July start to the hearings --especially those intended to set a foundation of history and fact on which to build-- is very doable, and planning for a summer in D.C. following the proceedings ought to be on most serious reporters' minds right now.

For the first time since the attack began, the House of Representatives is going to methodically, coherently and very seriously investigate why four Americans were surprised and killed that night, what our Ambassador was trying to accomplish in Benghazi, why even the few troops that were sent were delayed and why more potent forces were never sent --always recall that the White House, State Department and Pentagon had no idea when the attacks would end-- and finally when did the Administration systematically set out to lie about what happened there, conflate it with what happened in Cairo and blame it all on a You Tube video.

These hearings and the final report of the Committee --and the perjury prosecutions that should follow if anyone lies while under oath-- will finally bring the beginning of justice to Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Ty Woods. The hearings may also prompt the Administration to fulfill its promise to the families of these men: To bring their killers to justice.