The House Select Committee on Benghazi is entering a new phase of controversy thanks to criticism from a former staffer over the weekend.
That staffer, Bradley Podliska, accused the panel of evolving into a politically motivated investigation into Hillary Clinton and her aides as opposed to a neutral probe of the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Podliska, who was fired by the committee, plans to file a lawsuit alleging wrongful termination. He claims he was dismissed in part because of his obligations as an Air Force Reserve major, a move his lawyers say was illegal, and in part because of objected to targeting Clinton. (The committee dismissed the allegations, saying Podliska was fired for cause: poor performance and a lack of judgment.)
So who is Podliska, a previously unknown figure who now finds himself at the center of the Benghazi controversy?
Let’s start with his academic credentials. Podliska holds a B.A. in international relations from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and as a student there, he took ROTC courses for the Army. He later earned an M.A. in security studies from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in political science from Texas A&M University. His 2007 dissertation — “Acting Alone: U.S. Unilateral Uses of Force, Military Revolutions and Hegemonic Stability Theory” — later provided the foundation for a book, also titled “Acting Alone,” which was published in 2010.
According to a Georgetown Q&A with Podliska, 41, he chose to work at the Pentagon as an intelligence analyst and become an Air Force reservist because he’d always wanted to join the Army. He worked with the U.S. Joint Forces Command in Virginia under the director of intelligence and later for the Joint Warfare Analysis Center. In 2008, Podliska deployed to Iraq as an intelligence officer with the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. In this role, he briefed and debriefed pilots before and after their daily flight missions.
“When troops deploy to Iraq, the reality is that these are your friends. When guys went out on the missions, it’s like those were your buddies taking off in the jet and you didn’t want anything to happen to them. Having that bond is very memorable,” he said. Asked about an accomplishment that makes him proud, he said: “My service in Iraq: 100 percent of our missions were successful.”
Podliska said he later worked with the U.S. European Command in Germany doing tactical intelligence before moving back to the Washington, D.C. area for another job with the Defense Department. He joined the Benghazi committee staff in September 2014 and was dismissed in June, making a total of about $108,000 during that time, according to congressional records.
A self-described lifelong Republican, Podliska claims he returned from a period of active duty in late March to find that the Benghazi panel changed its emphasis to focus almost exclusively on Clinton. The former investigator now plans to file a complaint in federal court next month over his termination. He is reportedly seeking compensation for lost wages and reinstatement to his former position or an unspecified amount in lost future wages. The complaint will also reportedly seek an injunction requiring the committee to follow laws protecting service members from discrimination.
Podliska’s claims, first reported by the New York Times, add fuel to the firestorm surrounding House Republicans’ Benghazi investigation. Democrats on the panel and Clinton’s campaign have long claimed that the probe was dedicated to undermining Clinton’s White House ambitions.
But the allegation seemed to ring more true after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) credited the Benghazi committee with lowering Clinton’s poll numbers. McCarthy reversed himself on the matter and apologized to the committee’s chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who argues he is conducting a fair and unbiased investigation that has no wish to hurt Clinton politically. But, ahead of Clinton’s public testimony on Benghazi on Oct. 22, the strife surrounding the panel seems only to be getting worse.
In an interview with CNN, Podliska charged that “there was very little work actually being done” by the committee, where staffers were “surfing the Web all day long” and even “drinking during the work day.” He claims that staffers set up a “gun buying club” and would spend “hours at a time” designing custom firearms.
There is one public source of insight into Podliska’s temperament and personality: in 2011, he participated in the Post’s Date Lab feature, where strangers are set up on blind dates and share their feelings about the experience with readers.
“I’m extremely driven — I’m an academic, an Air Force officer, I work out five times a week, all in addition to holding a full-time job,” he told the Post at the time. Asked to brag a bit, he said: “I’m smart: I wrote a book. I’m not boring: I’ve been sky diving. And most importantly for the women out there: I listen.”