The Blu­men­thal com­mit­tee

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - Twit­ter: @Mil­bank

The House Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Blu­men­thal, as some are now call­ing it, came to or­der at 10 a.m. Law­mak­ers didn’t fin­ish ques­tion­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton un­til 11 hours later — just af­ter the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date suc­cumbed to a cough­ing fit.

In that pe­riod of time, the name of Sid­ney Blu­men­thal was in­voked more than 75 times, and scores of ques­tions were asked about the long­time Clin­ton friend. By lunchtime, Blu­men­thal had been in­voked 49 times — ex­actly the num­ber of men­tions of J. Christo­pher Stevens, the am­bas­sador to Libya whose death in Beng­hazi is the sup­posed sub­ject of the con­gres­sional probe. The other three Amer­i­cans slain in Beng­hazi — Sean Smith, Glen Do­herty, Tyrone Woods — got seven or eight men­tions apiece, then­CIA di­rec­tor David Pe­traeus and former de­fense sec­re­tary Robert Gates each got two, and then­De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon Panetta had none.

Chair­man Trey Gowdy (R­S.C.), read­ing from Blu­men­thal’s e­mails to Clin­ton as if he were the teacher who had in­ter­cepted a note passed be­tween two high school kids, said Blu­men­thal re­ferred to Gates as “a mean, vi­cious lit­tle” — Gowdy paused. “I’m not go­ing to say the word, but he did.”

He also quoted Blu­men­thal re­fer­ring to then­na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Thomas E. Donilon’s “bab­bling rhetoric,” and he said Blu­men­thal had re­ferred to “Obama” (he “left the ‘pres­i­dent’ part out”) and “his po­lit­i­cal cronies in the White House and Chicago.”

Clin­ton re­fused to get riled. “I don’t know what this line of ques­tion­ing does to help us get to the bot­tom of deaths of four Amer­i­cans,” she said.

But Gowdy knew. A cou­ple of min­utes later, he an­nounced: “I’ll tell you what: If you think you’ve heard about Sid­ney Blu­men­thal so far, wait un­til the next round.”

He and his col­leagues made good on that state­ment, pos­ing ques­tions on a Blu­men­thal visit to Clin­ton’s home, about his work for the Clin­ton Foundation, his busi­ness in­ter­ests, his at­tempt to get a job at the State Depart­ment and his com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the former sec­re­tary of state over mat­ters as mun­dane as her new iPad. They were par­tic­u­larly con­cerned with whether Blu­men­thal’s ad­vice to Clin­ton on Libya was “un­so­licited.”

The Blu­men­thal fo­cus shows that, af­ter 17 months of prob­ing Clin­ton, the Beng­hazi com­mit­tee hasn’t come up with much. Blu­men­thal has been a Clin­ton hatchet man for years, and he has an un­sa­vory rep­u­ta­tion. The very men­tion of his name (he was prom­i­nent dur­ing the Mon­ica Lewin­sky scan­dal) lends a whiff of skul­dug­gery to any sit­u­a­tion.

But in­ject­ing Blu­men­thal as a cen­tral char­ac­ter in the Beng­hazi probe doesn’t help Repub­li­cans demon­strate that Clin­ton did wrong. And the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for in­vok­ing him — to demon­strate that Clin­ton had more con­tact with him than with Stevens — is a stretch. What­ever else one thinks of the former jour­nal­ist — I’ve clashed with him over the years — he had noth­ing to do with what hap­pened in Libya on Sept. 11 and 12, 2012.

Rep. Mike Pom­peo (R­Kan.) acted as if he had found a video of Blu­men­thal at­tack­ing the com­pound him­self. Pom­peo, who had pre­vi­ously made the false al­le­ga­tion that Clin­ton got “most of her in­tel­li­gence” on Libya from Blu­men­thal, asked whether Stevens had Clin­ton’s per­sonal e­mail, her cell­phone num­ber, fax or home ad­dress or vis­ited her at home. “Mr. Blu­men­thal had each of those and did each of those things,” Pom­peo con­cluded. Case closed! Rep. Pe­ter J. Roskam (R­Ill.) thought he saw a smok­ing gun in an e­mail cor­re­spon­dence from Au­gust 2011 in which Blu­men­thal en­cour­aged Clin­ton to “make a pub­lic state­ment be­fore the cam­eras” when Libyan leader Moam­mar Gaddafi was de­posed.

“Two months be­fore the end of the Gaddafi regime and you’re al­ready plan­ning on how to make your state­ment dra­matic to max­i­mize po­lit­i­cal gain,” Roskam scolded. Rel­e­vance to the Beng­hazi at­tack? None. Gowdy, for his part, found it damn­ing that Clin­ton aides passed along some of Blu­men­thal’s ad­vice (which he got from a former in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial) to peo­ple in­clud­ing Stevens. “It’s rel­e­vant be­cause our am­bas­sador was asked to read and re­spond to Sid­ney Blu­men­thal’s drivel,” the chair­man said, “in some in­stances on the very same day he was ask­ing for se­cu­rity.”

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), a Demo­crat, ob­served that for all the time the panel has spent on Blu­men­thal, you’d think “that he was in Beng­hazi on the night, man­ning the bar­ri­cades.” Dur­ing pri­vate tes­ti­mony from Blu­men­thal, to which he was sum­moned by fed­eral mar­shals, Repub­li­cans asked more than 160 ques­tions about Blu­men­thal’s as­so­ci­a­tions with Bill and Hil­lary Clin­ton but fewer than 20 about the Beng­hazi at­tacks.

Schiff and Rep. Eli­jah E. Cum­mings (Md.), the rank­ing Demo­crat, pro­posed that Repub­li­cans, rather than se­lec­tively re­leas­ing Blu­men­thal’s e­mails, come clean about their in­ter­est in him and make pub­lic the en­tire tran­script of his tes­ti­mony. Gowdy, af­ter a shout­ing match with Cum­mings, re­fused.

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