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Sunday, December 4, 2016

The strange saga of the House Select Committee on Benghazi continues as its chair, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) fends off renewed questions about the committee’s purpose, as well as demands to release the sworn deposition of Sidney Blumenthal, taken behind closed doors on June 16.

In a July 7 CNN interview, Hillary Clinton – the actual target of Gowdy’s investigation – brushed off accusations about her use of a private email server and mocked his partisan probe. “This is being blown up with no basis in law or in fact,” she said. “That’s fine. I get it. This is being, in effect, used by the Republicans in the Congress, OK. But I want people to understand what the truth is. And the truth is everything I did was permitted and I went above and beyond what anybody could have expected in making sure that if the State Department [servers] didn’t capture something, I made a real effort to get it to them.”

Gowdy answered by reiterating previous claims that only his committee’s intrepid work had revealed Clinton’s email practices. “The fact of the matter is it took the Benghazi Committee to uncover Secretary Clinton’s use of personal email and a server to conduct official State Department business,” the chairman declared after her interview aired. He went on to make a series of further accusations about the emails, insisting that the messages about Libya sent to her by Sidney Blumenthal were “solicited” by her and not, as she described them, “unsolicited.”

These disputes might be cleared up if only Gowdy would release Blumenthal’s testimony, since he answered all the committee’s questions on these and other matters under oath.

Questioned about the emails he sent to Clinton, Blumenthal probably mentioned the indisputable fact that her use of a private email server was revealed not by the Benghazi committee but by a Romanian hacker known as “Guccifer” — now serving time in prison for stealing messages from Blumenthal as well as former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Dorothy Bush, the sister of former president George W. Bush. Many of those emails, obtained by Guccifer in a suspected Russian intelligence operation, were published on the Internet months before the Benghazi committee came into existence.

And Blumenthal surely noted, again under oath, that his emails to Clinton were “unsolicited,” despite Gowdy’s strained attempt to prove otherwise — as Gowdy undoubtedly knows. That is one of many reasons why he continues to suppress the former Clinton aide’s testimony. The excuse proffered by committee Republicans is that releasing closed testimony might discourage candor by future witnesses – an argument undercut by letters from Blumenthal attorney James Cole, urging the committee to release his client’s full deposition.

No, it is now clear that Gowdy prefers to leak the Blumenthal testimony in order to smear both Clinton and the witness he claims to be protecting. For weeks, snippets of Blumenthal’s testimony and of his emails to and from Clinton have turned up in the media, to advance negative, highly distorted perceptions of both the former Secretary of State and her longtime friend.

These cowardly, bullying tactics are designed not only to embarrass Clinton and Blumenthal but to justify the committee’s increasingly expensive and partisan excursion into nowhere.

On July 7, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen too took a hard shot at Gowdy, under the headline “Placating The Right-Wing Clinton Haters.” He capably sums up the results of the committee’s inquisition into Blumenthal and Clinton:

The committee, the eighth to look into the Benghazi matter and determine if Clinton, as Secretary of State, was somehow complicit in the deaths of four colleagues — you know, those Clintons are capable of anything —asked Blumenthal 160 questions regarding his relationship with Clinton and fewer than 20 regarding Benghazi. (The Democratic minority kept count.)

The committee also asked Blumenthal more than 50 questions about his relationship with the Clinton Foundation and only four about security in Benghazi [the ostensible purpose of its existence]. Blumenthal was additionally asked more than 270 questions about his business dealings in Libya, which, considering that he has none, is commendable thoroughness run amok.

The committee in its wisdom came to appreciate that regarding Libya, Blumenthal not only had no business interests there, but also that he had never even been in the country. The emails concerning Libya that he had passed on to Clinton had come originally from Tyler Drumheller, the CIA’s one-time top spy and someone who just might have had something interesting to say. It seemed reasonable to Blumenthal to relay them to Clinton and it seemed reasonable for her to relay them to her staff for vetting. In fact, it seems downright admirable, because the last thing you want is a government official who operates in a bubble. Given what the committee learned, its Republican majority then nimbly pivoted from insinuating a Blumenthal conflict of interest over Libya to accusing him of having nothing of interest to say about it. They got him there.

The Republicans, led by Gowdy, have learned little of significance, despite spending millions of taxpayer dollars. But they have keenly pursued matters of partisan interest to them, such as Blumenthal’s work for Correct The Record, a political committee that publicly defends Clinton and other Democrats, and Media Matters for America, the watchdog against right-wing misinformation in the media. On July 7 Gowdy also received a sharply worded letter from David Brock, the founder of both groups, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former Maryland lieutenant governor who chairs Correct The Record’s board.

Emphasizing that Gowdy and other Republican committee members asked at least 45 questions about Blumenthal’s “association with our organizations,” the letter from Brock and Townsend urged him to disgorge his testimony in full:

Mr. Chairman, we are entitled to know what questions you and other committee members asked about our organizations in Mr. Blumenthal’s deposition. Judging by the portions that have been leaked to favored people in the press and various right-wing blogs by Republican committee staff aides in direct violation of your committee’s own rules, presumably with your approval, aspersions have been cast upon our work. Your unethical leaking was a further abuse of Congressional power. The only way we can clear our good name is by knowing exactly what innuendoes and insinuations Republican members made about us behind the committee’s closed doors.

Indeed, Gowdy no longer seems to expect anyone to believe his denial that the recent leaks emanate from him and his staff. In his Washington Post media blog, Erik Wemple wrote that the Select Committee chair seemed to “wink” at a recent leak to Politico that sparked a brief controversy last week. And nobody else would have either the motive or the opportunity to orchestrate the leak campaign,

Meanwhile, the New York Times and other outlets that have published the leaks continue to slant their reporting against Blumenthal and Clinton. The easiest way to measure the Times bias is to note that Blumenthal’s attorney, former Deputy Attorney General James Cole, has written not one or two but three pungent letters to Gowdy, protesting the committee’s cheap-shot leakage and urging the release of his client’s testimony. For reasons best known to Michael S. Schmidt, the Times reporter covering the Benghazi committee, the paper has failed to mention those letters from Cole, let alone to quote them.

Times editors might well ask themselves why their Washington bureau is in cahoots with a congressional committee that epitomizes partisan abuse. Even Maureen Dowd, of all people, understood what was going on when she aptly renamed it “the House Select Committee To Keep Republicans in Power and Harass Hillary Clinton.”

Photo: Rep. Trey Gowdy, Official Portrait, via Wikicommons

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