Beneath a surface of surprising comity and bipartisanship, Republicans and Democrats on the Benghazi Select Committee are warily circling each other, guns at the ready, but still holstered.
After today’s low-key hearing to examine whether the State Department has taken steps to ensure that another Benghazi doesn’t happen, reporters asked the Republican chairman and his Democratic counterpart whether they intended to call former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the witness stand.
“She is a witness we would like to talk to. I cannot tell you when,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy.
But Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings poured cold water on that idea, saying “Mr Schiff said today he could not see why she would be called, and I would agree with that,” referring to fellow Democrat, Adam Schiff.
If I had to bet, I would put money on Hillary being called before the committee. But don’t hold your breath for that to happen tomorrow. Gowdy also made clear in talking with reporters that his staff was still in the early stages of acquiring documents from the State Department, the intelligence community, and other U.S. government agencies.
“I’d be a really lousy lawyer if I questioned witnesses before I had all the documents,” he added.
Here are a few of my takeaways from today’s hearing.
1) The State Department continues to stonewall, and will not answer the most basic of questions the American public (and members of Congress) continue to ask: What was so important to the national interest of the United States for us to send diplomats into harms way in Benghazi at a facility everybody knew was not up to even minimal security standards?
Asked this question repeatedly today, the State Department’s “star” witness, Assistant Secretary of State Gregory B. Starr, hid behind the convenient dodge that he left the Department in 2009 to become a United Nations bureaucrat and so wasn’t around when the decision to open the Benghazi compound was made.
Starr had been in the Department for nearly thirty years, and before leaving for the United Nations he was the Director of the Diplomatic Security Service. If anyone should understand security issues at embassies, and the underlying U.S. interests warranting risk, it’s Starr.
And yet, he not only dodged questions about why the U.S. was in Benghazi, but also got wrong simple facts about the security detail protecting ambassador Stevens.
He claimed, for example, that the 16-man U.S. Army Special Forces Site Security Team (SST) providing close protection for the ambassador was only providing “static security,” when in fact they traveled with the ambassador wherever he went, even jogging with him in the streets of Tripoli.
Worse, he then blamed Ambassador Stevens for not protesting louder that he needed more security, when in fact Stevens and his security officers were sending cables virtually non-stop to the State Department begging for help.
It’s so easy to blame the dead.
2) The State Department continues to send diplomats and other U.S. personnel into harm’s way in facilities overseas that it knows are not secure and cannot be defended.
The State Department’s independent inspector general, Steve Linick, told the Panel that well after Benghazi, the State Department is still unable to “adequately identify security deficiencies” at overseas facilities. Even worse: the Department has 10 overseas compounds similar to the Special Mission compound in Benghazi, with poor to non-existent security, and local security guards who often time do not even go through a basic background check.
Starr acknowledged there were more high-risk posts than in anytime in his 30-year career, and that State now had to ask diplomats to do two-year tours without dependents in order to staff these risky outposts.
But rest assured, General Motors lives, Osama bin Laden is dead, and al Qaeda is on the run!
3) The Democrats will work hard and spend every taxpayer dollar at their disposal to obstruct the truth and provide cover for Hillary Clinton.
Elijah Cummings got Gowdy to invite him to meet with Speaker Boehner on Thursday to discuss the scope of the Select Committee’s investigation.
While I understand Gowdy’s desire to conduct a non-partisan investigation, those days in Washington are over. Cummings is on a fishing expedition, and there is no reason why Gowdy should indulge him.
The days of comity may last a little while longer, but I predict that Democrats will go for the jugular once Gowdy’s investigators get close to exposing the truth.