It’s easy to forget that when the Republicans’ Benghazi Committee initially sought testimony from Hillary Clinton, GOP officials wanted her to provide private, closed-door testimony. The former Secretary of State was eager to answer questions publicly, for all the world to see, but Republicans desperately wanted the discussion to be kept far from public view.
And after watching this farce unfold today, we now know why.
It’s hard to say exactly when today’s hearing descended into total farce, but it was arguably when Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), for reasons that didn’t appear to make any sense, quizzed Clinton repeatedly on her correspondence with informal adviser Sidney Blumenthal. The New Republic’s Brian Beutler highlighted the problem.
Republicans have intoned darkly about this relationship and played up, in deceptive fashion, Blumenthal’s influence over Clinton’s policy in Libya – despite the fact that he has no Libya expertise, and has apparently never been there. Republicans even deposed him for hours. But here’s the catch: while they continue to make an issue of Blumenthal’s relationship with Hillary Clinton, and their email correspondence, they’ve refused to release the transcript of that deposition, where he had a full opportunity to contextualize it.
Today, after Gowdy pressed Clinton on this – reinforcing every suspicion about the entire exercise being brazenly partisan and political – Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) couldn’t take it anymore. The Maryland Democrat insisted that if Republicans are going to reference Blumenthal’s role, then the committee has a responsibility to release the full transcript of Blumenthal’s testimony to the public.
Gowdy refused and a shouting match ensued. The far-right chairman, however, simply couldn’t defend his position or explain why GOP lawmakers insisted on keeping relevant information hidden from view.
It was arguably a low point in the hearing, but it had plenty of competition in the category.
It’s practically impossible to go through the several hours’ worth of exchanges we’ve seen so far, but I sincerely hope that it’s dawned on Republicans that this hearing was a dreadful mistake.
Whether GOP lawmakers realize it or not, they created a platform for the leading Democratic presidential candidate to speak before the nation and appear knowledgeable, articulate, compassionate, and competent. Simultaneously, the committee’s Republicans, who spent months preparing for today’s epic showdown, were hopelessly clueless and small.
Which strategic genius in Republican Party thought it’d be a good idea to pit Hillary Clinton against obscure, unprepared, far-right members of Congress? Why on earth would the GOP go out of its way to make the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination look like the adult in the room?
Clinton has often been blessed by incompetent opponents, but this is ridiculous.
What’s more, it’s too common. In early August, congressional Republicans scheduled hearings on the international nuclear agreement with Iran, and despite having months to prepare their best arguments and sharpest questions, they had nothing. Slate’s William Saletan attended all three hearings and came away flabbergasted: “Over the past several days, congressional hearings on the deal have become a spectacle of dishonesty, incomprehension, and inability to cope with the challenges of a multilateral world…. I came away from the hearings dismayed by what the GOP has become in the Obama era. It seems utterly unprepared to govern.”
A month later, congressional Republicans scheduled hearings on Planned Parenthood, and once again, they had months to prepare, organize their thoughts, coordinate their lines of attack, read their own charts, etc. And yet, they again seemed hopelessly lost.
As we discussed in September, conservative partisans should see congressional Republicans as poor allies, in large part because they don’t seem to do their homework especially well. They create opportunities to advance their interests, but then let those opportunities pass as a result of negligence and incompetence.
Disclosure: My wife works for a Planned Parenthood affiliate, but she played no role in this report and her work is unrelated to the September congressional hearing.