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Thursday, February 21 , 2019, 12:37 am | Fair 47º


Joe Conason: While the Republicans Snarled, Hillary Smiled

To watch Hillary Clinton's Republican antagonists during Thursday's public hearing of the House Select Committee on Benghazi was to wonder how they could possibly behave the way they did.

As representatives of the American people, they not only failed to fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to them but also exposed their own ignorance of basic aspects of government.

Determined as they were to encourage doubt about Clinton's presidential candidacy, they instead elevated her and raised hard questions about their own knowledge, character, temperament and intellectual capacity to serve in Congress.

After months of "investigating" Clinton, the Republican committee members have developed only a dim understanding of simple phenomena — such as the many and varied sources of information, beyond email, that are available to the secretary of state. O

nly someone very dense, very poorly informed or both would believe, for instance, that she received most of her intelligence about Libya or any other subject in unclassified email traffic.

Often the sheer mindlessness was stunning. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., asked Clinton whether she had been alone "all night" at home Sept. 11, 2012, the night of the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., inquired whether the late Ambassador Christopher Stevens had ever visited Clinton's home or possessed her "fax number."

Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., demanded Clinton admit that as secretary of state, she had overseen policy toward Libya. Several Republicans interrupted her rudely, upbraided her for using notes — even while they read from their own notes — and demanded she answer with "yes" or "no," as if they were prosecutors grilling a defendant.

The lines of inquiry that the Republicans pursued were muddled, directionless and confusing, seemingly even to them. As the Democrats repeatedly pointed out, after all the tumult over Clinton's emails, the proceedings of this committee so far, after several legislative and administrative investigations, have revealed nothing new about the terrorist attacks in Benghazi — their prelude or their aftermath.

So what may American taxpayers have gleaned from those 11 hours of hearings, the culmination of an expenditure of 17 months and $4.8 million?

They learned that Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the committee's chairman, is obsessed with someone named Sidney Blumenthal, a friend of Clinton's who sent emails to her about Libya and other topics.

He's not just weirdly preoccupied, as anyone could see, but truly obsessed, to the point of choking rage.

Those who have followed Gowdy's conduct during the months leading up to this moment will find this Blumenthal business all too familiar. Having discovered that Blumenthal sent some emails to Clinton about Libya, largely incorporating information he had gathered from retired intelligence personnel, the chairman and his colleagues sought to fabricate a conspiracy theory of the Benghazi attacks that somehow involved him.

Actually, "conspiracy theory" is too coherent a description of their aimless maundering on the topic of Sidney (who also happens to be my friend).

Gowdy appeared to believe, or perhaps pretended to believe, that if only the secretary of state had ignored Blumenthal's emails, the Benghazi attacks might somehow have been prevented. According to this theory, she was paying too much attention to him and not enough to Stevens.

In fact, as Clinton patiently attempted to explain over and over, she naturally delegated decisions about the safety of the Benghazi compound and personnel — and all perilous diplomatic posts — to the State Department's security staff.

Moreover, her communications with Blumenthal were and are entirely irrelevant to the matters that Gowdy purports to be investigating. Should Gowdy ever really wish to know why it is difficult to protect our embassies, consulates and foreign service officers abroad, he might investigate himself and all the other Republicans who — as Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, acknowledged Thursday — voted repeatedly to slash hundreds of millions of dollars from the State Department's security budget.

By the time Gowdy finally gaveled the hearing to a close, there was little doubt that Clinton's composed, dignified demeanor — and the contrast between her and the Republicans — had notched another political victory for her.

She had movingly recounted the events of that awful night in Benghazi, explained her actions in detail, firmly defended the honor of Accountability Review Board Chairman Tom Pickering and Adm. Mike Mullen, the board's vice chairman, and pleaded for a return to statesmanship.

Her strong performance rallied skeptical liberals to her side, while furious conservatives whined in despair.

And when it was over, she rose from the witness chair, smiling and greeting friends, while Gowdy stalked out, stone-faced and perspiring, as if he had seen his own demise.​

Joe Conason is editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. Click here to contact him, follow him on Twitter: @JoeConason, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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