Eli Lake reports in the Daily Beast that House Republicans are nervous that the select committee on the Benghazi attack could backfire. He writes, “There is deep unease within the Republican leadership that the select committee, which has yet to announce a schedule of hearings, could backfire, and badly. Investigate and find nothing new, and the committee looks like a bunch of tin-hatted obsessives. Investigate and uncover previously-hidden secrets, and it makes all of the other Republican led panels that dug into Benghazi seem like Keystone Kops.”
They should be concerned, but that doesn’t mean they should halt the committee’s work. Here are 10 ways Republicans can avoid self-inflicted wounds:
1. Do not recall witnesses to answer the questions previously answered. If there are new lines of questions those can be asked, but it makes no sense to plow the same ground. Staff should comb the transcripts to make certain what has and has not been asked of each witness.
2. Focus on discrete topics:
Why did we not pull out our people when other countries removed theirs?
Why wasn’t Hillary Clinton brought into the loop on requests for more security?
Who else besides Ben Rhodes designed and/or approved the talking points on the video?
Why did the White House say the attack was about a video at a time both CIA and State knew it was a terrorist attack?
Who decided to withhold the Rhodes document for so long?
That’s about it. The questions are simple enough, and a small number of witnesses can be called. The transcripts of all other committees can be included in the record and referenced in a final report.
3. Designate a single person to ask all the questions. Preferably this would be someone with trial experience in questioning witnesses.
4. Allow Hillary Clinton to answer questions in writing. She’s going to be prepared (scripted) anyway, so you might as well get her official answers without the drama.
5. Keep straight who was responsible for what. Focus on the White House concerning the talking points and on State regarding the failure to anticipate the attack. (Sorry, amateur sleuths, but State didn’t come up with the phony video cover story; Rhodes and/or others in the White House did.)
6. Write a report that is easily accessible and not overly long. Republicans should make certain that people can read it for themselves and not rely on media accounts. (Footnotes, backup materials and other bulky data can be put in a separate appendix.) If it is more than 10 pages, it is too long. A timeline on a single page would be helpful.
7. No speeches by anyone on the committee. None. In fact, at hearings only the designated questioner should address witnesses. (Juries don’t talk during trials; they listen.)
8. Extend every courtesy to the Democrats. The questioners can ask any questions they want answered by witnesses. Give them access to documents. The final report should indicate what facts are not in dispute.
9. Call Ben Rhodes as a witness. Go to court if necessary to demand his appearance. Grant him immunity if necessary. He is the only person definitively linked with the video-made-them-do-it talking points and is therefore vital to getting answers to many of the questions listed above.
10. Avoid conclusions about motives that are not supported by the evidence. This is a fact-finding body, not an inference-building body. Commentators, historians, voters and politicians can fight over what it all means in the grand scheme of things.