The House Select Committee on Blumenthal, as some are now calling it, came to order at 10 a.m. Lawmakers didn’t finish questioning Hillary Clinton until 11 hours later — just after the Democratic presidential candidate succumbed to a coughing fit.
In that period of time, the name of Sidney Blumenthal was invoked more than 75 times, and scores of questions were asked about the longtime Clinton friend. By lunchtime, Blumenthal had been invoked 49 times — exactly the number of mentions of J. Christopher Stevens, the ambassador to Libya whose death in Benghazi is the supposed subject of the congressional probe. The other three Americans slain in Benghazi — Sean Smith, Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods — got seven or eight mentions apiece, then-CIA director David Petraeus and former defense secretary Robert Gates each got two, and then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had none.
Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), reading from Blumenthal’s e-mails to Clinton as if he were the teacher who had intercepted a note passed between two high school kids, said Blumenthal referred to Gates as “a mean, vicious little”— Gowdy paused. “I’m not going to say the word, but he did.”
He also quoted Blumenthal referring to then- national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon’s “babbling rhetoric,” and he said Blumenthal had referred to “Obama” (he “left the ‘president’ part out”) and “his political cronies in the White House and Chicago.”
Clinton refused to get riled. “I don’t know what this line of questioning does to help us get to the bottom of deaths of four Americans,” she said.
But Gowdy knew. A couple of minutes later, he announced: “I’ll tell you what: If you think you’ve heard about Sidney Blumenthal so far, wait until the next round.”
He and his colleagues made good on that statement, posing questions on a Blumenthal visit to Clinton’s home, about his work for the Clinton Foundation, his business interests, his attempt to get a job at the State Department and his communication with the former secretary of state over matters as mundane as her new iPad. They were particularly concerned with whether Blumenthal’s advice to Clinton on Libya was “unsolicited.”
The Blumenthal focus shows that, after 17 months of probing Clinton, the Benghazi committee hasn’t come up with much. Blumenthal has been a Clinton hatchet man for years, and he has an unsavory reputation. The very mention of his name (he was prominent during the Monica Lewinsky scandal) lends a whiff of skulduggery to any situation.
But injecting Blumenthal as a central character in the Benghazi probe doesn’t help Republicans demonstrate that Clinton did wrong. And the justification for invoking him — to demonstrate that Clinton had more contact with him than with Stevens — is a stretch. Whatever else one thinks of the former journalist — I’ve clashed with him over the years — he had nothing to do with what happened in Libya on Sept. 11 and 12, 2012.
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) acted as if he had found a video of Blumenthal attacking the compound himself. Pompeo, who had previously made the false allegation that Clinton got “most of her intelligence” on Libya from Blumenthal, asked whether Stevens had Clinton’s personal e-mail, her cellphone number, fax or home address or visited her at home. “Mr. Blumenthal had each of those and did each of those things,” Pompeo concluded.
Rep. Peter J. Roskam (R-Ill.) thought he saw a smoking gun in an e-mail correspondence from August 2011 in which Blumenthal encouraged Clinton to “make a public statement before the cameras” when Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi was deposed.
“Two months before the end of the Gaddafi regime and you’re already planning on how to make your statement dramatic to maximize political gain,” Roskam scolded.
Relevance to the Benghazi attack? None.
Gowdy, for his part, found it damning that Clinton aides passed along some of Blumenthal’s advice (which he got from a former intelligence official) to people including Stevens. “It’s relevant because our ambassador was asked to read and respond to Sidney Blumenthal’s drivel,” the chairman said, “in some instances on the very same day he was asking for security.”
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), a Democrat, observed that for all the time the panel has spent on Blumenthal, you’d think “that he was in Benghazi on the night, manning the barricades.” During private testimony from Blumenthal, to which he was summoned by federal marshals, Republicans asked more than 160 questions about Blumenthal’s associations with Bill and Hillary Clinton but fewer than 20 about the Benghazi attacks.
Schiff and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat, proposed that Republicans, rather than selectively releasing Blumenthal’s e-mails, come clean about their interest in him and make public the entire transcript of his testimony. Gowdy, after a shouting match with Cummings, refused.