MARTIN SCHRAM: Benghazi debate clouded by deception
On the morning of April 24, two prominent drivers of policy and politics converged at Washington’s perpetually gridlocked intersection of governance and the news media. There they artfully merged and sped merrily away in the far right lane of the information highway.
But good governance was not well served by those artful drivers: the politically assertive chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and the news personalities of the Fox News Channel’s morning show, “Fox & Friends.”
Indeed, the ones who were harmed most directly were the trusting Fox viewers — because they were the ones who were being artfully maneuvered and ultimately deceived. But we all need to care. Because in a real sense, we were all being harmed — just for the sake of yet another round of Washington name-calling. And what was lost in all this was the fact that Issa and his House Republican colleagues do have some important concerns that needed to be aired, understood and resolved.
Issa went to his soul mates at Fox News to air conclusions of a report by the chairs of five powerful House committees that have probed last Sept. 11’s security debacle at Benghazi, Libya, where U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others were killed by terror-bent attackers. But Issa and his Fox friends buried their best message with a performance of conservative kabuki as news theater.
First, you need to know this wasn’t a report by five House committees to the full House of Representatives — just a report by the Republican committee chairs, addressed only to the House Republicans.
Second, it was widely covered elsewhere as the political claim it actually was. CNN’s Jake Tapper reported: “House Republicans say Secretary of State (Hillary) Clinton personally signed off on cuts in security at the diplomatic mission in Libya before the attack last year. ...” The Washington Post report was headlined: “GOP report faults Clinton on Benghazi security.”
But “Fox & Friends” co-anchor Steve Doocy performed coverage contortions to avoid mentioning it was a Republican assertion. He called it “a government report” and called Issa only a “congressman ... who led the investigation,” never mentioning his party.
Doocy’s segment began with a video of then Secretary Clinton testifying at a hearing that she hadn’t seen or denied requests for more security in Libya. Next, Doocy spoke — and to do his inflection emphasis proper justice, I need to use capital letters to designate where his voice rose almost an octave and doubled in decibels:
“That was then-Secretary Clinton testifying, under oath, that she had ZERO KNOWLEDGE about requests for more security before the Benghazi attack. But a new, scathing government report from the House reports that wasn’t even the truth.”
Next, we saw Issa declaring: “Well, secretary of state was just wrong. She said she did not participate in this, and yet only a few months before the attack, she outright denied security — in her signature, in a cable, April 2012.”
Time out. Actually, Clinton testified at length about the fact that while the State Department procedure is to email masses of memos over what is said to be the secretary’s emailed signature, the secretary actually sees very few memos.
Most, she testified, are decisions by subordinates several steps down the command chain.
That procedure is anachronistic, absurd and should be ended at once. Every memo should carry the name of the highest-ranking official who wrote or at least approved it. Of course, Issa knows about State’s anachronistic procedure.
But, instead, he accused Clinton of making “wrong” statements, without evidence that she actually saw or approved the April 19, 2012, email that bore her name.
But we do know this: From the way Obama officials have failed to refute the unsupported Republican claim that Clinton had a role in denying increased security for Benghazi, we cannot just accept Clinton’s version of it either. After decades of covering government officials, I know that they know the fastest and best way to stomp out a false accusation: just put out the facts.
So far, the Obama administration hasn’t done that — not even after this latest Republican attack.
Maybe, in the theory of what new brooms can do best, Clinton’s successor, Secretary of State John Kerry, will help all sides — and all of us — by sweeping away this decaying political debris. He recently promised Republicans that if there’s a document they need, “I’ll work with you to try to get it.”