Is the Benghazi scandal hunt finally over? And if there’s no Benghazi scandal, could that actually mean that President Obama will reach the end of his eight years in office without an era-defining, presidency-threatening scandal on the order of Watergate or Iran-contra? To conservatives who have believed for the past two years that Benghazi would eventually show the world the true villainy of this president, this is a horrifying prospect, but it could come true.
You may have missed it in the traditional Friday news dump, but at the end of last week, the House Intelligence Committee – which, don’t forget, is run by Republicans – released a report that all but exonerated the Obama administration of having done anything, well, scandalous. “An investigation by the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee has concluded that the CIA and U.S. military responded appropriately to the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012,” The Post reported, “dismissing allegations that the Obama administration blocked rescue attempts during the assault or sought to mislead the public afterward.” It also found that while the talking points Susan Rice delivered in the wake of the attack were inaccurate, it was because of conflicting information coming in and not a scheme to hoodwink the public. All the conspiracy theories about a “stand-down order” and whatever else they’ve been talking about on Fox News were emphatically rejected.
On yesterday’s Sunday shows, some Republicans took the news better than others. “I thought for a long time that we ought to move beyond that,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) on “Meet the Press.” But Lindsey Graham was mad as only Lindsey Graham can be. “I think the report is full of crap,” the senator from South Carolina said on CNN’s “State of the Union.””That’s a bunch of garbage. That’s a complete bunch of garbage.”
There may be no one who owes more to Benghazi than Graham, whose relentless condemnations of the administration on the issue managed to keep conservatives in South Carolina from getting too angry at him for voting for immigration reform. On this issue he has effectively channeled the right’s anger and its hope that the true scope of the scandal will be revealed any day now. Back in May, Graham proclaimed, “We now have the smoking gun” when decidedly mundane e-mails revealed that Ben Rhodes, the White House official whose job is to craft and disseminate spin on topics of national security, was in fact crafting and disseminating spin on Benghazi. A year before, Graham said, “I think the dam is about to break” on Benghazi revelations. No wonder he’s upset.
But as scandals go, Benghazi has been truly remarkable in the depths of triviality to which it sunk – which is perhaps understandable given how fruitless the search for official wrongdoing has been. To take just one example, there was actually a moment when people argued passionately about whether in the immediate aftermath Barack Obama referred to the attack as an “act of terror” or a “terrorist attack,” on the presumption that the former is weak and terrorist-coddling, while the latter is strong and terrorist-terrifying. That really happened. These days, the creation of misleading talking points is the worst crime with which Republicans can manage to charge the administration — not exactly the kind of thing that brings down a president.
Benghazi will be a vital part of the history of the Obama presidency, not for what it says about the administration but what it says about the administration’s opponents. After multiple investigations by multiple committees, endless hours of testimony, thousands of documents produced, and untold Fox News discussions (and it isn’t over yet; the select committee chaired by Trey Gowdy still has to have its say), nothing scandalous has actually been discovered. Yet the administration’s critics remain convinced that there is an awful truth somewhere waiting to be uncovered.
They felt the same way about Solyndra, and “Fast and Furious,” and the IRS. In every case the supposed scandal was greeted by Republicans with a quivering joy; they were sure the facts would be worse, and the wrongdoing reach higher, than anyone could imagine. And in every case, the more we learned, the less shocking things looked.
Like every administration, this one has had its share of screwups and missed opportunities. But it has been remarkably light on genuine scandal, the kind characterized by criminality and coverup. I’m sure there are few prospects more disturbing to conservatives than the idea that Obama may complete two terms without being laid low by a scandal. Many, if not most, on the right are convinced that he and his administration are deeply, fundamentally corrupt, and the fact that that corruption hasn’t been exposed may only be proof of just how diabolical Obama and his minions are.
But now the hour is growing late, and in the last two years of this administration there will be conflicts aplenty to occupy all of our time. For all the fulmination over the president’s immigration order, there are at least genuine issues there to be debated, issues of policy and presidential power. And the fights of the last two years are just beginning; we’ll be arguing about the budget and tax reform and health care and other issues that will arise, all while the 2016 presidential campaign is ramping up.
Benghazi is all but over, and with it the hopes of Republicans to drag Obama down into the quicksand of what they imagined would be his own wrongdoing and well-deserved ignominy. Like a lot of what Republicans have hoped for in the past few years, it just didn’t pan out. Some, like Lindsey Graham, will keep shaking their fists at the television cameras, insisting that the ghastly truth will become clear any day now. But the rest of the world will move on.