Defending the Republicans’ Benghazi Committee has always been difficult, since the panel was created by GOP partisans for seemingly partisan reasons. Those responsible for leading the select committee, duplicating the work completed by several other committees, said the panel was necessary to answer key questions about the deadly 2012 attack – but all of those questions have already been answered.
Two weeks ago, the defense became even more difficult when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) admitted that the panel was a taxpayer-financed political exercise, intended to undermine Hillary Clinton. No one was especially surprised, though it raised questions about the committee’s continued existence.
And over the weekend, the story took an even more dramatic turn. The New York Times reported on allegations raised by a former Benghazi Committee investigator, Bradley F. Podliska, a major in the Air Force Reserve.
A former investigator for the Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi plans to file a complaint in federal court next month alleging that he was fired unlawfully in part because his superiors opposed his efforts to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic mission in the Libyan city. Instead, they focused primarily on the role of the State Department and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, he said.
Committee Republicans said in a statement that they “vigorously” deny the allegations, and they stand ready “to prove his termination was legal, justified and warranted – on multiple levels.”
What they will not be able to do, however, is accuse Podliska of partisan motivations – the active-duty serviceman describes himself as a lifelong conservative Republican. And according to his account, the GOP’s Benghazi Committee fired him for focusing on Benghazi, instead of targeting the Democratic presidential candidate.
“My non-partisan investigative work conflicted with the interests of the Republican leadership, who focused their investigation primarily on Secretary Clinton and her aides,” the statement from Podliska said.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the chairman of the controversial panel, is pushing back aggressively, insisting the allegations are without merit. But there was something the Republican congressman told Fox News yesterday that struck a discordant note.
South Carolina GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, said he never met with the staffer. […] “Because I do not know him, and cannot recall ever speaking to him, I can say for certain he was never instructed by me to focus on Clinton, nor would he be a credible person to speak on my behalf,” Gowdy said.
Just last week, however, the Wall Street Journal published a piece noting that Gowdy “handpicked” the committee’s staff. The GOP-led panel liked the WSJ piece so much, the committee republished it on the committee’s official website.
If the Republican chairman “handpicked” Podliska and his colleagues for the panel’s staff, it seems odd that Gowdy now says he does not know and never even met the intelligence officer. What’s more, earlier this year, when Podliska was still on the committee’s staff, Gowdy boasted about the team’s work and qualifications. Five months later, however, Gowdy seems to be suggesting he’s had no real interactions with Podliska at all.
Podliska talked to CNN’s Jake Tapper yesterday, telling the host that the Republicans on the committee have been irresponsible. “There’s wrongdoing here and I think it needs to stop,” Podliska said, adding, “I’m scared. I’m nervous. I know that this is, you know, I’m going up against powerful people in Washington. But at the end of the day I need to live with myself. I told my wife, I will view myself as a coward if I don’t do the right thing here.”
Podliska also described an office environment in which Benghazi Committee staffers spent their taxpayer-financed work hours surfing the web and sometimes drinking on the job. He accused his former colleagues of joining a “gun-buying club” and spending work hours designing personalized weapons.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member on the Republicans’ Benghazi Committee, called the allegations raised by Podliska as “extremely serious.” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), another member of the panel, added, “Even before Kevin McCarthy’s comments laid bare the true intent of the committee, it’s been clear that Secretary Clinton has been the true target of this investigation, and the Republican whistleblower who has come forward only provides further evidence of what has been long evident. It’s time to shut down the Benghazi Select Committee. Only by ending this expensive and politicized investigation can we begin to undo the damage already done through this unprecedented use of Congress’s power for nakedly political purposes.”
Given the number of allegations surrounding the controversial panel, it’s hard not to wonder whether there needs to be an investigation into the investigation.