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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Not since Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr used Washington reporters – including reporters at The New York Timesto run his political errands has a newspaper so eagerly sustained an abuse of power as the Times has done lately for the House Select Committee on Benghazi.

Instead of asking why the Republican congressional leadership still squanders millions of taxpayer dollars on a wholly redundant investigation, the paper of record has lent its pages to selective and defamatory leaks from the committee majority.

The immediate victim of their chicanery is Sidney Blumenthal, but of course their true target is Hillary Rodham Clinton.

On June 16 Blumenthal testified before the committee for nine hours. When he emerged from the closed hearing room, it swiftly became obvious that the Republican conspiracy theory about him, promoted by the committee’s GOP majority in copious leaks to the Times, had proved false in every salient detail.

Back when the Times published its initial May 19 report on this matter by Nicholas Confessore and Michael S. Schmidt, their story stoked suspicions that in his private emails to Clinton about Libya, Blumenthal was promoting the fortunes of his “business associates,” who had, in the imagination of Gowdy and his staff, employed him to obtain favors from her.

Blumenthal’s sworn testimony debunked the suggestion that he had been involved in any Libyan “business venture,” that he had derived monetary profit from any such venture, or that he had used his friendship with Clinton to advance his mythical business interests when she served as Secretary of State. There was no Libyan enterprise; there were no Blumenthal business associates; there were no favors asked by him or delivered by her; and there was not a dime derived from any Libyan venture by him, ever – as I noted both here and in Politico magazine.

In the massive trove of pirated and subpoenaed emails between Blumenthal and Clinton, there was moreover no plausible evidence to support those insinuations – yet the Times’ Washington bureau gave credibility to the committee’s fantasies, perhaps knowing that would attract still more leaks.

In the days before the closed hearing, Times reporter Schmidt contacted Blumenthal’s lawyer James Cole, a former deputy attorney general. Schmidt said he had learned that Blumenthal and Cole planned to assert journalistic privilege in refusing to identify the sources of the “intelligence reports” on Libya sent in Blumenthal’s emails to Clinton. Schmidt also suggested that such a claim by Cole would be hypocritical, since Cole had opposed an assertion of journalistic privilege during his tenure at the Justice Department.

Schmidt also told Cole he had learned that Blumenthal “got $60,000” from the Libyan business venture. And he indicated that the Times was prepared to publish both allegations. After the attorney informed him that he was wrong about both the privilege claim and the money, Schmidt published nothing. But he was doggedly pursuing the committee’s farfetched notions – and trolling Blumenthal’s attorney – until the eve of the hearing.

As Blumenthal stated after completing his testimony, he answered every single question. Most had nothing to do with the purported subject of the hearing. Indeed, lacking any proof to support the conspiracy theories publicized in the Times, the committee’s Republican members posed remarkably few questions to Blumenthal about that topic. They spent practically no time discussing the September 2012 murders of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, the alleged focus of the committee’s concern, because Blumenthal has no special knowledge about that tragedy.

The Republican members and their staff were apparently surprised to learn from Blumenthal that in fact he has never set foot in Libya. They were also stunned when he informed them that he did not write the “intelligence reports” included in his emails to Clinton, which came from his friend Tyler Drumheller, the CIA’s former chief of European operations – although that fact was published weeks ago.

Ill informed as they may be, however, Gowdy and his colleagues are determined partisans who eagerly misused their authority to interrogate Blumenthal with hostile questions about his work with Media MattersCorrect the Record, and other groups that dared to criticize their ridiculous investigation.

The illegitimate intent of those questions was to harass Blumenthal for lawful free speech – a departure from the committee’s stated mission that might conceivably disturb the First Amendment purists at the Times. But since nobody leaked that part of the hearing to Schmidt, it went unreported there.

Everyone should hope that Gowdy and his Republican colleagues accede to the demand by their Democratic colleagues to release Blumenthal’s testimony in full — rather than continuing to leak paragraphs and paraphrases out of context to the Times and other publications. Aside from providing a needed corrective to the majority’s constant prevarications and misconduct, the transcript is sure to have entertainment value. My sources say that some of the exchanges between Blumenthal and his inquisitors are comedy gold.

There came a moment, for instance, when Rep. Mike Pompeo drew attention to an email from Blumenthal to Clinton that concluded with a joking reference to Clio.

“Who is Clio?” demanded the Kansas Republican suspiciously.

Clio is the Greek goddess of history, Mike – whose judgment upon this travesty will be your committee’s just reward someday.

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