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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Once more, The New York Times serves as a bulletin board for partisan attacks on Hillary Rodham Clinton – today by publishing a muddled, pointless “investigation” of journalist Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime Clinton advisor and friend who served in the White House during President Clinton’s second term. It can serve only to justify the ongoing but fruitless existence of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, whose leaking staff served as the story’s primary source.

Reporters Nicholas Confessore and Michael S. Schmidt strain very hard to suggest impropriety in a series of memos about Libya that Blumenthal shared with Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State. Rather than producing anything solid, however, what they deliver is flatulent. Their story’s forced, conspiratorial tone and gassy substance are inexplicable, unless they hope readers will assume that Blumenthal was trying to advance a private interest — without a shred of evidence to prove it.

Was it wrong, as the Times story insinuates, for Blumenthal to share information he had received on Libya from his friends or “business associates” with Secretary Clinton? If so, every Cabinet member in every administration, dating back to the beginning of the Republic, surely belongs in the dock.

Yet in order to hint at wrongdoing, the convoluted Times story fails to explain a very basic fact to readers: Nothing in the memos that Blumenthal provided to Clinton discussed any Libyan business or humanitarian project– and by the way, Blumenthal (who I should disclose is a longtime personal friend and colleague of mine) never made a dime related to Libya in any way. He received no payment from his friends, Tyler Drumheller and Cody Shearer, or from any of the other figures mentioned in the Times story, who hoped to provide hospital beds and other needed services in the wake of Muammar Qaddafi’s ouster.

Nor did Blumenthal’s duties as a consultant to the Clinton Foundation, which chiefly involved conferences, speeches, and books relevant to the former president’s legacy, have any bearing on Libya matters.

The Times also obscures the fact that nothing Clinton did with Blumenthal’s memos can be construed negatively either, although again the Times reporters strain for such inferences. Just as Blumenthal anticipated, she routed them through official channels at State, where they were undoubtedly recorded on government servers. There is nothing more sinister to this episode.

But the overarching context is still Benghazi, a topic so far examined by 10 separate official inquiries, including several on Capitol Hill, since the tragic attack on the U.S. consulate there in September 2012. None of those inquiries has found any wrongdoing by Clinton, but congressional Republicans continue to misuse millions of taxpayer dollars to sustain “Benghazi!” as a partisan rallying point.

In this instance Republican staffers on the House Select Committee on Benghazi, chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), plainly leaked several Clinton emails to the Times. Aside from a shared animus against Clinton, the Republicans presumably turned to the paper of record in frustration that their probe is headed nowhere – and perhaps because the State Department announced this week that it will not release the former Secretary’s 30,000 official emails until next January 15.

The misbehavior of Gowdy and his staff is particularly odious because Blumenthal’s emails on Libya are almost entirely irrelevant to the Select Committee’s supposed concerns. Moreover, as noted today by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking minority member of the committee, Gowdy’s decision to subpoena Blumenthal is extraordinary and violates several precepts of normal congressional order.

To peruse this puzzling article is to wonder whether Confessore and Schmidt (as well as several other Times staffers who participated in its reporting) have nothing better to do. Gawker first posted the Blumenthal emails in 2013, after gaining access to them via Guccifer, the jailed Romanian hacker now under indictment by the Justice Department. As the FBI seems to recognize, Blumenthal was the victim, not the perp.

Last March Jeff Gerth, the former Times reporter famous for scooping Whitewater and Wen Ho Lee, reprised the Gawker story at Pro Publica, reviving his stale vendetta against the Clintons and their friends. (The enlightening tale of Gerth’s role in Whitewater – including his dubious effort to spin Justice Department officials on behalf of the pseudo-scandal’s right-wing promoters  – can be found in our new e-book The Hunting of Hillary, available free from The National Memo.)

Exactly what is the news value in today’s Times story? The reporting is unimpressive, to put it politely: Seeking to denigrate the information provided to Clinton in the Blumenthal memos, Confessore and Schmidt describe them as “aping the style of official government intelligence reports but without assessments of the motives of sources,” and conclude with a damning quote from a former CIA official: “The sourcing is pretty sloppy, in a way that would never pass muster if it were the work of a reports officer at a U.S. intelligence agency.”

Actually, while those reports were emailed to Clinton by Blumenthal, their author was Tyler Drumheller, a former chief of CIA covert operations in Europe – a salient fact the Times reporters should have learned from the Gawker posts that inspired them. Did they conceal it to hype their story?

Certainly, Nick Confessore has come far since his stint at The Washington Monthly, a publication unafraid to castigate weak journalism wherever it appeared (including the Times). Describing jaded attitudes in Washington, Confessore complained in the Monthly’s December 2002 issue that capital elites often behaved as if criticizing the right too sharply was “gauche.”

The only worse offense inside the Beltway, he wrote, “is to defend a politician too persistently; then you become not a bore, but a disgrace to the profession and its independence — even if you’re correct [emphasis added]. Thus…The New York Observer’s Joe Conason, who vigorously defended the Clintons during the now-defunct Whitewater affair, is derided as shrill and embarrassing.”

So Confessore has long known that Whitewater, a witch-hunt provoked by Times “investigative reporting,” was arrant bullshit — and that anybody who said so too often and too loudly would be punished by the Clinton-hating establishment in D.C., including the Times’ Washington bureau. His current efforts show how well he learned to avoid that fate.

Photo: House GOP via Flickr

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