Friday, when the news hit that at long last House Speaker John Boehner would name a Select Committee to investigate, once and for all, the events leading up to and following the local al Qaeda affiliate’s attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, it might have been the smartest political move of either party in years.
And for Boehner to be the man making it was doubly notable. The Speaker has for some time had a major problem conducting actions to placate his party’s base voters or even showing that he’s in tune with the interest of the public outside of the Beltway. Boehner, after all, was most recently in the news for having been on video with a mocking “It’s just so HAAAAAAAARD!” whine as he chided the GOP caucus’s unwillingness to pass an immigration/amnesty bill. Following that mini-scandal, Washington rumors of a wide-open race commencing to succeed Boehner as Speaker began to surface; conventional wisdom began percolating that Boehner was through and his caucus had written him off.
Whether or not the Select Committee is a last-gasp by Boehner to maintain his leadership role, it does represent smart politics. A Rasmussen poll released May 5 indicates that by a 51-34 margin, Americans don’t believe the full story has been told about the events of that day or those surrounding it, and that response is consistent with polling on Benghazi going all the way back to the day Chris Stevens and three other Americans were murdered.
And further, Boehner’s choice of Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina) to chair the Select Committee confirmed the decision’s home-run status. No other member of the GOP caucus has shown himself to be as well suited for such a role as the former 17-year veteran criminal prosecutor and, more recently, congressional hearing viral video star. Gowdy’s appointment to the chairmanship of the Select Committee is a clear signal that Boehner isn’t looking for half-measures, and his agreement to chair the committee is a signal that a broad, aggressive investigation will commence.
That’s important, because more than a year and a half after the Benghazi attack there are more questions unanswered than resolved. We still don’t know where the President was during the seven hours our CIA and diplomatic personnel engaged in a battle with hundreds of al Qaeda militants that night. We don’t know why there were no military assets available for seven hours during that ordeal. We don’t know how far up the White House food chain the idea originated to frame the attack as a protest of a YouTube video insulting Islam (though the revelation last week of the infamous Ben Rhodes email finally confirmed that narrative did come from the White House). We don’t know what provided the foundation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s using the YouTube video lie in front of grieving relatives of the fallen at Andrews Air Force Base. We’ve yet to hear from any of the survivors of the Benghazi attack. And we don’t know why nobody has been brought to justice for the attack.
And most importantly, we don’t know why our ambassador was in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012 in a facility with grossly substandard security when all the other major Western nations had pulled out of that city, and we don’t know why our diplomatic facility was supplemented with a “CIA annex” a few blocks away where several dozen Americans were working. There has been an abundance of theories floating around as to what the purpose our presence in that chaotic city was; we might have been trying to buy back guns given to al Qaeda, or shipping guns to Syrian rebels, or conducting hit squads across North Africa to eliminate bad guys. We as a public don’t know, and following such disastrous results it’s past time we did.
Gowdy will hopefully produce answers to those questions, or if not perhaps he can exact a terrible political price to the Obama administration for its failure to supply them. But, as Jed Babbin so wisely pointed out in these pages yesterday, he needs to be given an adequate charter to do so. After all, it’s been 15 months since Rep. Frank Wolf’s bill to authorize a Select Committee, which as of last week had 190 co-sponsors, was filed. Boehner never allowed a vote on that bill, which gave rise to questions about whether the Speaker was compromised on the issue.
For Boehner to not just agree to create the Select Committee but to have as its leader a man of such substance — and, potentially, to vest that Select Committee with sufficient scope and power to actually get to the bottom of the questions mentioned above — is a refreshing show of assertion. Little question, then, that the White House’s reaction to Gowdy’s appointment was to threaten not to cooperate with it as House Democrats have already signaled will be their response.
That will look like more of what the public already perceives: a cover-up. Attempting to cast this as a GOP witch-hunt when the American people still want answers is a mistake.
Boehner’s actions forced that error, and in an election year. He should get credit for finally finding the upper hand.