Last Friday, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence committee, issued a unanimous report addressing all the major issues on Benghazi. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R.-S.C.) heads a special committee to investigate Benghazi. Naturally, the question arises: What is left to investigate?
Here is my suggestion to Gowdy: Why not call Rogers, a fellow conservative Republican, to testify as the first witness?
Here is my imagined line of questioning for Gowdy if and when he calls his Republican colleague, Rogers, as an expert witness. (All quotations from Rogers come from the House Intelligence Committee report; those “answers” by Rogers without quotes are my own judgments, based on the report as well as my impression of Rogers’s record for decency and fairness).
Gowdy: Sen. Lindsey Graham [R-S.C.] this past Sunday called your report “full of crap.” Do you want to comment on that?
Rogers: With all due respect, the word “crap” is not a fact; it is an opinion. The conclusions in our report are based on facts gathered after an extensive two-year investigation — that involved “thousands of hours … thousands of pages of intelligence assessments, cables, notes, and emails, held 30 Committee events and hearings; and conducted detailed interviews with senior intelligence officials and eyewitnesses to the attacks, including eight security personnel on the ground in Benghazi that night.”
Gowdy: For two years, Republicans have accused President Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Ambassador to U.N. Susan Rice and others in the administration of intentionally misleading the American people when Rice went on TV on Sept. 16, 2012, five days after the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, and described the origins of the Benghazi attack as a “spontaneous protest,” “triggered by Cairo protests” over an anti-Muslim video.
Do you agree they lied?
Rogers: No. The words “spontaneous demonstration” and “protests” in the “talking points” came from the CIA, based on then-current intelligence reports, not from the White House or State Department. In retrospect, those words turned out to be inaccurate. But there is a difference between a mistake and a lie. In fact, it wasn’t until Sept. 24 — 8 days after Rice’s TV appearances— that the CIA concluded that the attack did not begin with “spontaneous protests.” The committee also concluded that even two years later, “intelligence gaps remain” as to the origins of the attacks.
Gowdy: Do you think we owe President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Ambassador Rice an apology for accusing them of intentionally misleading the American people on Benghazi?
Rogers: I can only tell you that these accusations were wrong.
Gowdy: I recall a number of Republican senators opposing Rice for secretary of State because she intentionally misled people on the TV talk shows. Are you saying she is owed an apology?
Rogers: I can only say she did not intentionally mislead anyone on those shows.
Gowdy: Weren’t links to specific terrorist groups such as al Qaeda deleted from the “talking points” by the White House and State Department for political reasons?
Rogers: No. These deletions were made by the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs to ensure that the talking points “contained no information that could compromise sources and methods … [nor] the FBI investigation … [and] information pointing to any particular group was limited.”
Gowdy: And what about Republican accusations that there was an order to the military to “stand down” and not come to the defense of the compound?
Rogers: That is also untrue. Our committee also found no evidence that individuals were threatened or intimidated not to come forward with the truth, despite some claims otherwise.
Gowdy: Wait a minute: You are saying your committee has found that every one of the charges we Republicans have been making for the last two years against the administration about Benghazi — every one — is untrue. Since that is the case, what does this committee have left to investigate? How are we going to justify spending $3.3 million on hearings when we Republicans are always complaining about wasteful government spending?
Rogers: Beats me.
Gowdy: Well, there is always Whitewater.
Lanny Davis served as special counsel to former President Clinton and is principal in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, and is Executive Vice President of the strategic communications firm, LEVICK. He is the author of a recently published book, Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life (Threshold Editions/Simon and Schuster).