Yesterday, the chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) announced that Phil Kiko will be the majority staff director. In a statement, Gowdy emphasized that the committee would “conduct a serious, fact-driven investigation to ensure our fellow Americans know the full truth about what happened in Benghazi.” Kiko, Gowdy explained, has ample experience as “the Staff Director/General Counsel for the House Administration Committee, General Counsel/ Chief of Staff for the House Judiciary Committee, Deputy Chief of Staff for the House Science Committee, and Chief of Staff for Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI),” as well as executive branch experience.
Committee staff is beginning to formulate its approach to the hearings. A knowledgeable source told Right Turn that the committee expects to take depositions, with both counsel and members of Congress participating in the questioning and counsel, members and investigators participating in the drafting and ordering of the questions. More informal witness interviews and witness statements will also be collected, again with investigators, counsel and members participating in the drafting and asking of the questions.
It does not appear that public hearings will be conducted with a single interrogator. Rather, according to the source, both counsel and members of Congress will participate. “The venue for the questioning and the identity of the questioner will be solely geared toward eliciting the most relevant information. Members, counsel and investigators naturally and normally develop expertise in particular areas,” the source explained.
Republicans should be cautiously optimistic that the committee is on track. There are a few takeaways from this.
First, Gowdy is intensely conscious of the danger of meandering, showboating and ineffective questioning. By taking care to jointly prepare questions and agree upon the ordering of witnesses and questions, the committee has a greater chance of conducting a coherent line of inquiry and avoiding public ridicule.
Second, a lot of the committee’s work is going to be done off-camera. That is a good thing, both because it will cut down on the risk of overplaying and because serious, deliberative and time-consuming investigative work is hard to conduct with C-SPAN cameras rolling. It takes a while to tease out answers and put together the building blocks of an investigation. What will seem like excruciating and time-wasting questioning is actually the bread and butter of effective inquiries.
Third, Republicans should hope that Gowdy and Kiko put committee members on a short leash and focus on the precise issues they want to explore. Once you hand the microphone over to a politician on live TV, there is always the risk of him or her running amok, playing to the audience and, frankly, acting like a jerk.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said of Kiko, “His appointment today is further proof of Chairman Gowdy’s commitment to an investigation that is serious, fact-based and professional. The American people deserve the full truth about what happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, and there is no better person to help lead this effort than Phil.” The test will come when the committee begins its work, but if Republicans stick to their game plan, Democrats will have a hard time writing it off as a partisan witch hunt.