Gowdy in­jects Benghazi into the 2016 cam­paign

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Dana Mil­bank

— Is Trey Gowdy plan­ning a July sur­prise?

The chair­man of the Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Benghazi went to ground af­ter he and his col­leagues grilled Hil­lary Clin­ton in Oc­to­ber. They haven’t had a sin­gle hear­ing since then (and had only three pub­lic hear­ings be­fore that one), though they oc­ca­sion­ally send news re­leases re­mind­ing the world that their 700-day-old in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­tin­ues.

But that is about to change. Gowdy, af­ter blow-

WASH­ING­TON

ing through sev­eral pre­vi­ous deadlines he set, has said to ex­pect a fi­nal re­port “be­fore sum­mer,” and Repub­li­cans say they are draft­ing it now. In an­other in­di­ca­tion that the roll­out is ap­proach­ing, Gowdy last month stopped giv­ing Democrats tran­scripts of wit­ness in­ter­views. This move, os­ten­si­bly to pre­vent leaks, di­min­ishes the mi­nor­ity’s abil­ity re­spond to al­le­ga­tions con­tained in the ma­jor­ity re­port.

De­pend­ing on how long the de­clas­si­fi­ca­tion re­view takes, the Benghazi re­port is on track to drop by mid-July, just be­fore Congress re­cesses for the con­ven­tions and at a time when Repub­li­cans will be in need of a dis­trac­tion from the TrumpCruz stand­off. If the re­view takes longer (they typ­i­cally last from a few weeks to a sev­eral months), it could come out in Septem­ber, in the cam­paign’s home­stretch.

Ei­ther sce­nario would con­firm what crit­ics of the panel have said all along (and what Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy in­cau­tiously con­firmed) — that the panel is a po­lit­i­cal ex­er­cise de­signed to dam­age Clin­ton. Fox News host Greta van Sus­teren, writ­ing in the Huff­in­g­ton Post a year ago, ar­gued that “drag­ging the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into 2016 looks po­lit­i­cal” and that re­leas­ing the re­port right be­fore the elec­tion “looks aw­ful” and “sends a bad mes­sage about fair­ness.”

If the re­port comes out in 2016, she wrote, “it is fair to draw an ad­verse in­fer­ence against the Com­mit­tee — an ad­verse in­fer­ence of play­ing pol­i­tics ... What­ever the find­ings are in this in­ves­ti­ga­tion — it will for­ever be plagued by al­le­ga­tions of un­fair­ness, and pol­i­tics if this in­ves­ti­ga­tion is dragged into 2016.”

Back then, Gowdy told van Sus­teren that “I want it done be­fore 2016” and that “it’s not go­ing to come out in the mid­dle of 2016.” The panel had orig­i­nally con­tem­plated fin­ish­ing work in Oc­to­ber 2015. Gowdy later shifted that to the end of 2015, then this spring.

He will ar­gue that Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion foot-drag­ging slowed the in­ves­ti­ga­tion; one batch of doc­u­ments, de­liv­ered Fri­day, had been re­quested 17 months ear­lier. But it’s hard to pin the de­lay on the White House when the com­mit­tee has con­tin­ued in re­cent weeks to add new wit­nesses. The panel waited to re­quest in­ter­views with for­mer CIA di­rec­tor David Pe­traeus and for­mer de­fense sec­re­tary Leon Panetta un­til af­ter Clin­ton tes­ti­fied.

Those two, along with na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Su­san Rice and deputy Ben Rhodes, are among at least 35 in­ter­viewed since Oc­to­ber. Though most of the com­mit­tee’s work has been a re­tread of pre­vi­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tions, it claims it has re­ceived more than 72,000 pages of records not seen by other con­gres­sional com­mit­tees — not ex­actly a pic­ture of stonewalling.

Gowdy and his staff, ap­par­ently aware of the per­cep­tion prob­lem, have been re­leas­ing de­fen­sive state­ments to the pub­lic. When the re­port is re­leased, “I’m con­fi­dent the value and fair­ness of our in­ves­ti­ga­tion will then be abun­dantly clear to ev­ery­one,” Gowdy said on April 8. The ma­jor­ity on April 6 is­sued a state­ment tak­ing is­sue with the “idea that the com­mit­tee’s Oc­to­ber hear­ing [with Clin­ton] was ‘a flop’ that pro­duced ‘no new in­for­ma­tion.’ ” Gowdy pre­vi­ously promised the re­port find­ings would be “eye-open­ing.”

One eye-open­ing thing has al­ready hap­pened: Gre­gory Hicks, the U.S. di­plo­mat in Libya who crit­i­cized the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­sponse, is now on de­tail from the State De­part­ment work­ing as a leg­isla­tive as­sis­tant to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who pre­vi­ously said Hicks’s “shocking tes­ti­mony” con­firmed a “Benghazi white­wash” by the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

An­other eye-open­ing thing: The panel never agreed on rules or a bud­get (some $6.5 mil­lion has been spent).

And the probe, af­ter a re­spectable start, quickly de­volved into the mix of un­founded al­le­ga­tions, se­lec­tive leaks and par­ti­san snip­ing that char­ac­ter­ized the pre­ced­ing Benghazi in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Rep. Dar­rel Issa’s over­sight panel.

Democrats don’t ex­pect to see the ma­jor­ity’s re­port be­fore it is made pub­lic. Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings (Md.), the top Demo­crat on the panel, said in a state­ment Wed­nes­day that he ex­pects “an ex­ces­sively long rehash of old Repub­li­can al­le­ga­tions that were dis­proved long ago.”

Ex­pect a lot of find­ings ques­tion­ing Clin­ton’s hon­esty (she told her fam­ily the Benghazi at­tack was the work of ter­ror­ists but misled the Amer­i­can pub­lic), judg­ment (her pol­icy led to the Libya at­tack) and hu­man­ity (she was in­dif­fer­ent to diplo­mats’ se­cu­rity). Th­ese themes dove­tail nicely with the gen­eral-elec­tion cam­paign Repub­li­cans plan to run against Clin­ton. This, like the tim­ing of the Benghazi re­port, is a cu­ri­ous co­in­ci­dence.

Dana Mil­bank is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at danamil­bank@wash­post.com.

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