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Thursday, December 8, 2016

The confusion of the House Select Committee on Benghazi is amusing to observe, even as its chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), scrambles frantically to salvage credibility amid the expensive fiasco he has created. Trying to clean up the appalling mess left behind by his decision to pursue his committee’s conspiracy theories involving Sidney Blumenthal – subpoenaed and questioned for nine hours last week — Gowdy has abruptly thrown the New York Times under the bus.

As the overture to Blumenthal’s subpoena, the Times published a highly speculative story on May 29, based on leaks and innuendo from the committee. According to that story, the former journalist and Clinton confidant wrote a series of “intelligence” memos about Libya that he sent to Hillary Clinton while she was Secretary of State – supposedly in hopes of advancing the interests of “business associates” who wanted to undertake humanitarian enterprises in that country.

In the days since Blumenthal’s June 16 appearance to answer the committee’s questions behind closed doors, it has become obvious that most of its inquiries had nothing to do with Libya and everything to do with politics – notably involving Blumenthal’s perfectly legitimate connections to Clinton and their mutual friend David Brock at Media Matters and American Bridge. (Both Brock and Blumenthal are longtime friends of mine.)

Even as they have continued to leak selected snippets of Blumenthal’s testimony to deflect embarrassment, the Republicans have come under increasing pressure from Democrats to release the full transcript. Despite the Washington press corps’ overriding concern with “transparency” in everything Clinton, few reporters have demanded the same from Gowdy so far — presumably because they want those leaks to continue.

On June 22, Gowdy dispatched a seething letter to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the committee, in response to Democratic demands that he release the transcript. In four single-spaced frothing pages, he tried to defend the Republicans’ misuse of taxpayer funds for an inquisition that has in no way advanced the public’s understanding of the Benghazi tragedy (which has already been probed exhaustively by 10 congressional panels and a State Department Accountability Review Board, without producing findings of any wrongdoing by Clinton, President Barack Obama, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, or any other top administration official).

About halfway through his letter to Cummings, Gowdy writes:

“It is also important that I correct certain misapprehensions that have, inadvertently I am sure, made their way into media accounts quoting Democrat sources. The committee never expected Witness Blumenthal to be able to answer questions about the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, since 1) Witness Blumenthal was not in Benghazi at the time of the attacks, 2) has never been to Libya, 3) did not collect any of the data passed on to Secretary of State Clinton, 4) did not evaluate the reliability or accuracy of any of the data he passed on to Secretary of State Clinton and 5) was dealing with information gatherers who may have had a financial stake in Libya.”

Note that phrase “never expected.” Never? With those two words, Gowdy scuttles the premise of the original Times article — which attributed the Libya memos directly to Blumenthal. Did Gowdy and his staff know that Blumenthal had simply transmitted intelligence memos written by his friend Tyler Drumheller, the former CIA European chief? Did the committee sources tell the Times reporters that Blumenthal had written them? Or is Gowdy now merely pretending that he knew about Drumheller’s authorship all along? According to my sources, the committee Republicans were stunned to learn on June 16 that Blumenthal had never set foot in Libya.

So without perusing the Q&A in Blumenthal’s deposition – a document that Gowdy obviously feels will embarrass him — it is hard to tell what kind of game he has played with the Times and other credulous journalists, but it doesn’t look good for him or them. An investigation that Gowdy once claimed would uncover crucial information about Benghazi has devolved into a sideshow featuring a Clinton friend who (as Gowdy now acknowledges) never knew anything about the attacks firsthand, but whose political advice to the Democratic frontrunner is of great interest to the committee’s partisan majority.

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