The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Meadows texts show Trump did what GOP (falsely) claimed Clinton did in Benghazi

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) during a committee hearing on Capitol Hill in July 2018. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Paging Trey Gowdy! Where’s the bulldog of Benghazi when his country needs him?

On Sept. 11, 2012, terrorists attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans died.

On Jan. 6, 2021, terrorists attacked the U.S. Capitol. Five people died during the attack and its immediate aftermath, including a police officer. Four more officers died by suicide in the following months. Another 140 police were injured.

The differing responses to the two tragedies show the rank hypocrisy in the Republican Party and the sickness that has taken hold of it.

Lawmakers launched eight congressional investigations of Benghazi over four years, culminating in a two-year, $7 million select-committee extravaganza led by Gowdy (R-S.C.), now out of Congress. Theirs was an unrelenting (and unsuccessful) campaign to prove a preconceived premise that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had arranged for the U.S. military to “stand down” instead of coming to the aid of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and the other three victims.

Now we know, thanks to the text messages of former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, that while domestic terrorists were sacking the Capitol and legislators hid in fear for their lives, several Republican lawmakers, Fox News personalities and Donald Trump Jr. reached out to Meadows to urge President Donald Trump to call off the attack. Trump refused for hours, and his Pentagon stalled on an urgent plea to deploy the National Guard to defend the Capitol.

In private text messages on Jan. 6, Fox News hosts condemned President Trump’s response to the attack. In public, those same hosts deflected blame from Trump. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

Essentially, Trump did just what Republicans falsely accused Clinton of doing in Benghazi. And attacking the U.S. seat of government is orders of magnitude worse than attacking a diplomatic outpost.

Follow Dana Milbank's opinionsFollow

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a lead Benghazi investigator, asked in 2014 “why there was not one order given to turn on one Department of Defense asset” to repel the attack? “I have my suspicions, which is Secretary Clinton told [Defense Secretary Leon Panetta] to stand down.”

They never showed that Clinton had anything to do with a military response, that there was a “stand down” order, that the military could have done anything in time to stop the tragic outcome or that politics influenced the Obama administration’s actions.

Greg Sargent: The lawyer behind the Trump coup memo unmasks the absurdity of the coverup

By contrast, we know beyond all doubt that Trump on Jan. 6 refused to stop his own supporters’ bloody rampage — one he incited. Yet GOP lawmakers, after reacting in initial horror to Trump’s actions, now defend them absolutely and punish heretical Republicans who refuse to join the whitewash.

The hypocrisy doesn’t end there. The No. 1 conclusion of Gowdy’s Benghazi report: “The First Victim of War is Truth.” Investigators were outraged the Obama administration initially said the Benghazi attack began as a protest, which turned out to be false. “The truth is always important. It is especially so during times when we as a nation must face a crisis — and mourn one — together and to learn from it,” Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Mike Pompeo (Kan.), later Trump’s secretary of state, wrote in an addendum. “Instead of sharing that truth, the administration concealed it. And in doing so it misled the American people for political gain.”

Now, Republicans are lining up behind the proven lies that Jan. 6 was perpetrated by antifa, that it was a “normal tourist visit” or that Trump tried his best to stop the violence — all in service of the big, democracy-killing lie that the election was stolen.

The Gowdy report concluded that the Obama “administration broke its promise to bring the terrorists to justice,” protesting that only one terrorist was brought to the United States for charges, and that he didn’t face the death penalty. Now, many Republicans have rallied for better conditions for the insurrection detainees. Trump and his followers have portrayed the police as murderers and Ashli Babbitt, shot dead while breaching the last barrier protecting legislators, as a martyr.

From the archive | Ann Telnaes cartoons: Live sketches from the Benghazi hearing

The Gowdy report righteously scolded the Obama administration because “we saw no evidence that the administration held a sincere interest in helping the Committee find the truth about Benghazi. … A national tragedy is one of those times when as a nation we should join together to find the truth.”

But after Jan. 6, Republican lawmakers blocked the formation of a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission that had been negotiated by the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee. Most then opposed, sabotaged and boycotted a select committee to investigate the attack and have threatened political exile for Republicans who do cooperate.

Jordan, in his addendum to the Benghazi report, wrote that the Obama administration, “so blinded by politics and its desire to win an election, disregarded a basic duty of government: Tell the people the truth.”

Five years later, with democracy itself on the line, Jordan and his colleagues are fighting the truth as if their very survival depends on it.