House Speaker John Boehner’s statement before the vote to form the House select committee on Benghazi contained important guidance for his members. His statement included this observation:
[L]ast week, a line was crossed in two places. First, it came to light that the White House did more to obscure what happened – and why – than what we were led to believe. Second, we now know that the administration defied a formal congressional subpoena.
Our committees sought the full truth, and the administration tried to make sure that they wouldn’t find it. Which means they tried to prevent the American people from finding the truth as well.
In my view, these discoveries compel the House to respond as one institution, and establish one select committee.
That is both accurate and wise advice. However ineptly, the House Republicans have plowed much of the Benghazi ground already. But what is new is the Ben Rhodes memo, both in its content directing Susan Rice’s media appearances and in the White House’s delinquency in turning the memo over. We have conflicting stories about the content of the memo. Jay Carney says it wasn’t about Benghazi at all, while other Obama surrogates last Sunday took up the “fog of war” defense. Which is it? Call Rhodes and others to explain. And then there is the evasion of congressional oversight. Who made the call to hold back the memo and why? These are not extraordinary or irrelevant questions. No one can claim in good faith that they have been answered definitively.
The degree to which the administration chooses to keep stonewalling will be telling. Having been ordered to turn over the Rhodes memo and other documents, the White House will now be handicapped in claiming its author can’t be questioned. Perhaps he still won’t appear. (If he does show up, he’d be wise not to hire Lois Lerner’s lawyer.) The prospect of two Obama officials being held in contempt for refusal to cooperate with congressional investigations of scandals would be a fitting rebuttal to the claim that this is the “most transparent administration” ever.
As for House Republicans, they would be smart to focus on new data, new witnesses and new issues. If those in turn generate questions about previous testimony from other witnesses, those witnesses should certainly be called to the stand. Respected members of the administration who are no longer in office and are therefore likely to be more candid, including Leon Panetta and Gen. David Petraeus, should be questioned about their knowledge of the White House spin operation.
Rep Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) or a hired counsel should conduct all the questioning. Representatives can get their questions asked by submitting them to the questioner, but a professional interrogator with a sustained line of questioning is essential to fact-finding. It will also remove the Republican representatives somewhat from the fray, allowing the facts to speak for themselves. The way to prevent grandstanding is to deprive them of the opportunity to grandstand.
Hey, what about Patrick Fitzgerald? Or maybe Ted Olson, the winning attorney in the gay marriage cases? A lawyer unlikely to be written off as a hack by the mainstream media and Democrats (I repeat myself) is essential. Then we can get to the bottom of the most recent questions.