When California Rep. Darrell Issa became chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, he openly stated his intention to hold hundreds of hearings in his ongoing effort to prove that President Barack Obama is “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.” Although his first several attempts to take down the administration fell flat, Issa’s initial failures only inspired him to “try, try again.”
The latest witch hunt — peremptorily titled “The Security Failures of Benghazi” — took place on Wednesday, when Issa’s committee held a hearing that sought to prove the Obama administration consciously prioritized politics over security in Libya, leading to the deaths of four Americans in attacks against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11. Unsurprisingly, the hearing was a partisan affair designed to embarrass Democrats rather than seek the truth or defend Americans in harm’s way.
Issa’s key witness was Eric A. Nordstrom, who served as the regional security officer for the American Embassy in Libya from September 2011 through June 2012. Nordstrom testified that the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security shot down his requests to extend the deployment of a military unit based in Tripoli, instead delegating security responsibilities to a mixture of American officers and Libyan militiamen.
“It was abundantly clear: we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident,” Nordstrom said. “And the question that we would ask is, again, how thin does the ice have to get before someone falls through?”
Nordstrom later added that the most frustrating part of his assignment was “dealing and fighting against the people, programs and personnel who are supposed to be supporting me. And I added [sic] it by saying, for me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building.”
Patrick Kennedy, the State Department’s undersecretary for management, presented the government case. According to Kennedy, Nordstrom’s recommended security increase would not have prevented the murders at the consulate. As he made his case, he was repeatedly interrupted by Republican members of the committee, who were seemingly only interested in hearing testimony that incriminated the Obama administration.
By the end of the hearing, the committee was no closer to establishing what measures might have prevented the attack.
If Issa and his Republican colleagues in Congress truly believe that inadequate security was directly to blame for the deaths in Benghazi, then they should take a long look at their own records before attacking the State Department. As Dana Milbank explains in The Washington Post:
For fiscal 2013, the GOP-controlled House proposed spending $1.934 billion for the State Department’s Worldwide Security Protection program—well below the $2.15 billion requested by the Obama administration. House Republicans cut the administration’s request for embassy security funding by $128 million in fiscal 2011 and $331 million in fiscal 2012. (Negotiations with the Democrat-controlled Senate restored about $88 million of the administration’s request.) Last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that Republicans’ proposed cuts to her department would be “detrimental to America’s national security”—a charge Republicans rejected.
Milbank points out that Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s draconian budget — which would cut non-defense discretionary spending by almost 20 percent in 2014 — would result in more than $400 million in additional cuts to embassy security.
But Issa’s hearing was never about policy; it was politically motivated from the start. Before he even came up with the bright idea of holding a televised inquisition on Benghazi, Republican Party standard bearer Mitt Romney was so shamelessly exploiting the consulate deaths that members of his own party and even one victim’s mother publicly called on him to desist and show respect.
Once Issa embarked on his Benghazi mission, he left little mystery as to his true goal. As Sara Sorcher reports in National Journal, on the day before the hearing, the committee’s minority Democratic staffers sent a memo to committee members accusing Issa of “failing to consult with Democratic members before issuing public letters with unverified allegations, concealing witnesses from Democratic staff, withholding documents obtained by the committee during the investigation, and effectively excluding Democratic committee members from joining” a “poorly planned” congressional delegation to Libya.
Of course, this type of behavior has become par for the course with Issa. After his all-male hearing on the Obama administration’s birth control mandate (which was so biased that it provoked Democrats to walk out) and his “Fast and Furious” fiasco (which completely misrepresented the program, but still failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Attorney General Eric Holder or President Obama,) there is no longer any question where the chairman’s motivations lie.
UPDATE: Issa’s hearing may not have just been a waste of time; it may have seriously jeopardized national security. As Milbank points out in his new column, it appears that, in its quest for a talking point, the House Oversight Committee accidentally blew the CIA’s cover in Libya.
Undeterred, Issa has already moved on to planning his next witch hunt: a Congressional investigation into Jack Welch’s widely discredited conspiracy theory that the Obama administration falsified September’s unemployment figures.
Photo credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite