It Is All About The Questions: Will The House GOP Botch Wednesday’s Hearing?
Wednesday’s hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Governmental Reform begins at 11:30 A.M. and before it is over the country will have decided whether it is interested in uncovering the truth about Benghazi –or not.
I spent Monday’s radio show interviewing six GOP members of the Committee: Congressmen John Mica and James Lankford in the first hour, Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis and Congressman Mike Turner in the second, and Congressmen Jim Jordan and Paul Gosar in the last hour.
Transcripts of two of the interviews –the one with Lankford and the one with Jordan– are on the transcript page here. I hope to bring on more members from the Committee today. All the Committee’s Democrats have been invited. None have agreed to come on.
All six of the members who appeared yesterday agreed on the need for clarity in the questioning of the three witness, especially Mr. Hicks, who was #2 in Libya at the time of the massacre.
But I was not left with a sense that the members had a shared strategic design so much as I was with the impression that they had the general idea that somehow the testimony of Mr. Hicks would itself propel the investigation forward.
The audience was underwhelmed, and some of it very angry at what was perceived as a lack of passion and preparation, though of course the members might simply be holding back until the hearing itself.
Perhaps the testimony of Mr. Hicks will by itself and without prodding from the panel transform the arc of the investigation, but the panel has one job and one job only in Wednesday’s hearings as far as the public is concerned: To answer the question whether in a season of extraordinary news events, should we pay attention to n attack in Benghazi, which as Jay Carney so callously put it, “happened a long time ago.” Is there, in other words, anything worth investigating here? Anything urgently in need of our time and attention?
It was obviously a terrible event, and the Obama Administration obviously was unprepared for it –even though it happened on 9/11– and Ambassador Rice was obviously out to deflect attention from the nature of the attack, but is there anything we don’t already know?
Key question of all questions: Did the president, the vice president, the Secretary of Defense or the then Secretary of State lie to us?
The witnesses tomorrow cannot definitively answer that question, but they can help us decide whether and how to go about asking it.
I kept asking my guests yesterday if they would please ask the following question of the three witnesses:
Did you –Mr. Hicks, Mr. Nordstrom, Mr. Thompson– ever hear any senior U.S. official say anything about Benghazi that you felt was a lie? If so, who and what was the statement that you thought was a lie?
If any of the witnesses identifies any senior U.S. officials as having –in their opinion— lied about Benghazi to the public, then the American people will want to know more. They will want to know about whether a genuine cover-up has been organized and is underway. Answering those questions will take time, but if the predicate is laid that the concerns over a cover-up are not rooted in partisan designs, it will power the investigation.
A second crucial question, this one for Mr. Hicks, a survivor of that night who lost his colleagues to the gross incompetence of the State Department and possibly the White House: “When then Secretary of State Clinton declared ‘What difference at this point does it make?’, how did you feel?”
The first question asks for an opinion, the second for a feeling. If called on to respond to questions requiring statements of opinions and feelings, the witnesses cannot be contradicted by Jay Carney or his many deputies in the White House presss corp which has abetted the burial of Benghazi.
A third line of questions –one uniquely in the provence of Mr. Hicks to answer– goes to why Ambassador Stevens was in Benghazi on 9/11 with so little in the way of security? Page 11 of the interim report on the matter states:
Ambassador Stevens traveled to Benghazi on September 10, 2012, to fill staffing gaps between principal officers in Benghazi and to allow him to reconnect with local contacts. He also planned to attend the establishment of a new American Corner at a local Benghazi school.27
This strikes many as implausible, and the buzz about weapons for the Syrian rebels has been in the background for some time, but whatever the reasons for the Ambassador’s itinerary, Mr. Hicks can provide them as well as details on the locals with whom he sought to connect.
Most Americans will only ever see a minute or two of the hours of testimony given tomorrow. A couple of clips, maybe three, will emerge as the central moments of the proceedings and that will be the public’s take-away.
The panel’s loyal Democrats will spend their time doing their best to interrupt the flow of the hearing and to block Mr. Hicks and the others from saying anything that engages the attention of the American people.
The Republicans –and especially Chairman Issa– have to focus again and again on whether or not the Administration is hiding the truth. If that answer is believed at the end of the day by most observers to be “Yes,” the investigation will gather momentum and go forward, hopefully to the Select Committee that was long ago needed and which the befuddled House refused in favor of five separate committee investigations.
Issa is smart and tough, and a relentless, focused questioner with a grasp of all that has happened. We have to hope that his colleagues are as focused on asking the key questions and not on using their five minutes of possible YouTube time to preen, that staff has drilled into them the need for repetition and to allow a witness to take his time answering without interruption, and that every member of the Committee realizes it isn’t about them but about getting the attention of the American people on the fact that the White House may be deeply involved in a cover-up of a terrible scandal.
A great deal rides on tomorrow’s proceedings. The GOP has had a long time to prepare for them. If they botch this moment, the truth about Benghazi may never come out.