Democrats and the Hillary Clinton campaign are pushing back hard against the investigation being conducted by the House Select Committee on Benghazi. They claim that its goal is to thwart Clinton’s White House presidential bid.
But as Bloomberg View’s Eli Lake asserts in a new report, the Clinton camp has only the Obama administration to blame for the special panel’s creation.
Despite what Democrats argue now, the special committee was created well before Clinton had announced her presidential bid. It was also created before anyone knew that she used a personal email account and private server as secretary of state. On top of that, House GOP leadership resisted the idea up until it was revealed in April 2014 that the Obama administration had withheld smoking gun emails from the House Oversight Committee.
As Lake notes, House Speaker John Boehner resisted the creation of a special panel for nearly 18 months. Five investigations had already been conducted and found no strong evidence confirming many Republicans’ belief that the Obama administration spun the Sept. 11, 2012 attack as the result of spontaneous protests sparked by an Internet video called “Innocence of Muslims.”
Republicans believed that the administration failed to heed calls for more security at the consulate and that the attackers were affiliated with al-Qaida. They claimed that the Obama team spun the story for political purposes ahead of the November 2012 election.
Virginia Rep. Frank Wolf, who is now retired, pushed Boehner to create a special committee to investigate further. He even drummed up enough votes to support the special panel, but Boehner declined to move forward.
But that all changed in April 2014 when the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch obtained an email sent on Sept. 14, 2012 by Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser Ben Rhodes.
In the email, Rhodes provided talking points to White House press staff about an upcoming conference call to prepare Susan Rice, then the U.S. Ambassador to the UN. Rice was slated to appear on Sunday morning political talk shows to discuss the Benghazi attack, which left four Americans dead.
Rhodes urged them to “underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”
The email undermined the White House’s claim that the CIA had provided the intelligence about the video cited by Rice during her Sept. 16 appearance on “Face the Nation.” During that interview, Rice said:
But based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy — sparked by this hateful video.
When Judicial Watch released the Rhodes email last year, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said that “it demonstrates for the first time that the direction on the talking points came directly out of the White House.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham called the email a “smoking gun.”
Boehner appeared to agree, issuing a press release on May 2, 2014 announcing that the House would vote on establishing a special committee.
“The tipping point was when the speaker realized outside groups were getting more information through FOIA than Congress was getting through congressional subpoenas,” Boehner’s communications director, Kevin Smith, told Lake.
The House approved the committee, which is chaired by South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy.
The investigation has yielded impressive results, including the the discovery that Clinton used a private server as secretary of state to manage emails she sent from a personal email account. The home brew email system allowed Clinton to avoid turning her emails over in response to FOIA requests and congressional inquiries. She was finally forced by the State Department to hand over the emails in December, nearly two years after leaving office.
The discovery of the private email arrangement has led to other questions that go beyond the scope of Benghazi. Many have questioned whether it was intended to allow Clinton discuss work being carried out by her family’s nonprofit, the Clinton Foundation. The security of the system has also been called into question.
Clinton no doubt rejects the timeline of the committee’s creation. She and other Democrats have seized on House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s comments last week tying the committee’s investigation to Clinton’s falling poll numbers.
On Monday, she issued a scathing rebuke of Committee Republicans who she accused of exploiting the deaths of the four Americans.
Her campaign began airing a TV ad on Tuesday using video of McCarthy’s comments.