We all remember the scene in the classic 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz” where the little dog Toto goes to a curtain and pulls it back, revealing not the great and mighty wizard but an old man using smoke and mirrors and a microphone to defraud the good citizens of Oz. “You are a very bad man,” Dorothy says. “No,” the fake wizard says, “I’m just a very bad wizard.”
Well, fast-forward 75 years and the Toto scene has happened all over again.
This time it was House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a candidate to become Speaker, playing the part of Toto. And the fraudster behind the curtain was Rep. Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the so-called Select Committee on Benghazi.
Speaking with Fox News host Sean Hannity about what the Gowdy committee had accomplished, McCarthy replied, with refreshing honesty: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. … But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought.”
It didn’t take long for one of the most rabid partisan Republicans in the House, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) — which is really saying a lot — to throw his colleague under the bus. Chaffetz told CNN that McCarthy’s comment was “inappropriate.” Of course, Chaffetz, having no cynical political motives at all, subsequently has declared his candidacy to oppose McCarthy for Speaker.
“Inappropriate” in the eyes of Chaffetz? Well, of course. He didn’t want everyone to know what he already knew: That the Gowdy “investigation” was and is a total, 100 percent partisan sham — a cynical exploitation of the 2012 deaths of four Americans.
It is a fact that eight congressional investigations have resulted in 30 hearings dealing with the tragedy, with more than 50 senior-level staff briefings, more than 30 interviews transcribed, and the production of at least 40,000 pages of documents, including the relevant Hillary Clinton emails. Moreover, the former secretary of State immediately established the independent, nonpartisan Accountability Review Board, chaired by Ambassador Tom Pickering, a career diplomat, and four-star Adm. Mike Mullen. She accepted all of the board’s recommendations, published all except classified sections, and took full responsibility.
And it is also a fact that the Republican House committees investigating the matter concluded there was no wrong-doing, no political cover-up and no manipulation on Benghazi, either by the administration or by Clinton. Just read the complete report of the Republican-led and -controlled House Armed Services Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. These committees spent months reviewing tens of thousands of pages of documents and interviewed hundreds of witnesses, and they concluded the following.
- There was no actionable intelligence warning of the attack.
- There was no stand-down order issued by Clinton, the State Department or anyone else.
- The controversial reference to the origins of the attack — “spontaneous protests inspired by an anti-Muslim video” — was a result of good-faith initial misperception by various intelligence and diplomatic sources, not an intentional politically motivated misstatement or cover-up.
Gowdy and other Republicans conveniently forget mentioning these Republican committees and their findings. So what is left for Gowdy to do? Attack the Republicans who signed onto these reports? Not a chance.
All he has left is to try to damage Hillary Clinton politically in her campaign for the White House. Are Republicans in the House embarrassed and ashamed at this cynical exploitation of the deaths of four Americans, that they’ve discovered nothing new about the tragedy, nothing, after spending some $6 million? Apparently not.
The Select Committee on Benghazi began its work in May 2014. Since then, as recently as Monday, Gowdy has denied Democrats’ requests to make depositions public. In the fall of 2014, Clinton asked to testify — publicly — before the committee, and has asked again and again since. Gowdy has refused.
Now the date of her testimony is set for Oct. 22. Is there any doubt the timing is political — a little more than three months before the Iowa caucuses? Does that suggest she is the one Democrat Republicans fear to run against the most?
While McCarthy’s exposure of Gowdy’s committee as a sham reminded me of Toto’s curtain-pulling in the “Wizard of Oz,” my reaction was the same as Police Captain Renault in “Casablanca,” when he announced his reaction to finding gambling in Rick’s casino: “I’m shocked, shocked.”
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 the recently published book “Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life.”