Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, on Monday accused the New York Times of using its investigation into the Benghazi attack as a way to boost a potential 2016 run for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "Of course Secretary Clinton was in charge at the time, and you know there are just now a lot of rumors going and pushing about her running for president in 2016," he said on Fox News, as recorded by the Hill. "So I think they are already laying the groundwork." Westmoreland, who disputed the report, said that the Times could only have written such a piece due to political motivations.
Given how much Republicans have invested in Benghazi conspiracy theories, it's hardly surprising to see some pushback against the New York Times' comprehensive report over the weekend. Indeed, the coverage leaves GOP arguments completely discredited, making criticism of the report inevitable.
But GOP lawmakers will have to do better than this.
When a conspiracy theory is debunked, its proponents have a few options to consider. They can look for additional evidence to bolster their argument; they can reevaluate their theory in light of the new information; they can even accept reality and move on to something else.
But Westmoreland has adopted a far sillier posture: as one conspiracy theory is discredited, his idea is to raise the specter of an even grander conspiracy theory.
Yes, in the eyes of the Georgia congressman, the New York Times' comprehensive report was published, not to provide the public with accurate information, but as part of an elaborate scheme to help advance Hillary Clinton's national ambitions.
"We are not quite as used to this kind of political machine as the president and the Clinton's have, and so I think they are just laying the groundwork and trying to absolve [Clinton] from the lack of security that was sent over there, the number of requests for security that was turned down," Westmoreland said.
It's not entirely clear who the Republican was referring to with "they." It could refer to Clinton and her allies, the New York Times, or both. (As conspiracy theories get more elaborate, keeping track of details like these necessarily gets more complicated.)
It's worth noting, of course, that Westmoreland -- a sitting member of the House Intelligence Committee -- has no evidence to substantiate any of this. He simply decided to go on national television and accuse one of the world's preeminent news organizations of lying to the public as part of a broader scheme to influence a presidential election three years in advance.
What's more, it's not clear that Westmoreland actually read the Times piece he disapproves of. Indeed, the article isn't exactly a gift to Hillary Clinton -- sure, it leaves Republican arguments looking silly, but as we discussed this morning, it also paints an unflattering picture of State Department decision-making in the period leading up to the deadly 2012 attack.
If the newspaper were engaged in a deliberate effort to "absolve" the former Secretary of State, why would the NYT's report cast Clinton's State Department in a negative light? It wouldn't.
Maybe the right should take a moment to reevaluate. When Republicans feel the need to embrace conspiracy theories as part of a defense of a conspiracy theory, it's just not healthy. When this is the preferred course for members of the House Intelligence Committee, it's rather alarming.