The House hearing on the Benghazi attack: Excerpts from the debate

A summary of the highlights from Wednesday’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the Benghazi attacks. (Sandi Moynihan/The Washington Post)

A House of Representatives committee held a hearing on Wednesday on the events surrounding the death of J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, in an attack on a diplomatic compound in Benghazi in September. For more on the hearing, read the Post’s coverage here.

The Washington Post’s opinion writers have been arguing fiercely about whether the hearing revealed problems at the State Department under the leadership of former Secretary Hillary Clinton, or whether it was mere political theater.

Eugene Robinson rejects the idea that there is any kind of scandal in Stevens’s death:

The hearing convened Wednesday by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) produced a riveting narrative of the chaotic events in Libya last September. But what was the supposedly unforgivable crime?

Did Clinton’s State Department fail to provide adequate security for the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi? In retrospect, obviously so. But the three diplomats who testified at the hearing gave no evidence that this failure sprang from anything other than the need to use limited resources as efficiently as possible. . .

Is the scandal supposed to be that a four-man Special Forces team was not sent from Tripoli to help defend the Benghazi compound? This is a decision that clearly still haunts and enrages Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission in Libya, who sat helplessly in the capital while Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were being killed at the consulate 650 miles away.

But the decision not to dispatch troops was made by the military chain of command, not by Clinton or anyone who reported to her. Superior officers decided this team was needed to help evacuate the embassy in Tripoli, which was seen as a potential target for a Benghazi-style attack. (Read the rest of his column here.)

Robinson argues that Issa’s only purpose in holding the meeting was to undermine Clinton’s chances of winning the presidential election in 2016. Stephen Stromberg argues that the case against Clinton is too weak to achieve that goal:

The facts don’t suggest any believable, coherent narrative of grand conspiracy or utter perfidy in the top ranks of the Obama administration. Digging into them would likely confuse a lot of voters. In 2016 Clinton would suffer — or benefit — far more from the state of the economy, the way she campaigns and voters’ impressions of her personality than from one episode in 2012 that didn’t capture the public’s imagination.

Greg Sargent says the Republicans’ approach is reminiscent of the early years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. While Michael Gerson states that blaming the attack on a protest rather than on organized, heavily armed terrorists, as the Obama administration did initially, gave the president an unfair advantage in his reelection campaign:

For the State Department, it shifted attention away from careless security practices in an obviously dangerous place. For the White House, it avoided pre-election discussion of the war on terror that was supposed to be largely won. For whoever made the military decisions on that night, it obscured the timidity of their response when Americans came under attack.

Republicans who see a repeat of Watergate in these events will be disappointed. This was an effort to obscure negligence and incompetence, not criminality.

But the administration’s reaction to Benghazi set a precedent. Judged by its main intention, it was successful. It got the administration past the November election with little damage. (Read the rest of the column here.)

Jennifer Rubin goes further:

Unless you are employed by the administration or unwilling to compare yesterday’s testimony to the multiple statements of administration officials up through the president’s United Nations speech on Sept. 25, you have to conclude the administration departed from the set of facts it had available almost immediately. . .

This is not to say Hillary Clinton’s political career is not at issue. Of course, her conduct and testimony will be relevant to her future political career.

Ed Rogers argues that even so, he and his fellow Republicans should move beyond the episode:

Mistakes were made, self-serving lies were told to escape blame, thuggish intimidation was deployed by political staffers against career professionals to keep them quiet and in their place, and friendlies in the media were used to set up rivals, make bosses look good and slam opponents. Okay, so what? This happens in just about every political organization in Washington every day. In fact, it is ALL some offices do in Washington every day. . .

No less than five GOP-led committees are looking into this. We shouldn’t be doing nothing, but isn’t this overkill when voters have other priorities, like the economy?

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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