“These have been among the worst weeks of my life,” House Benghazi Committee chair Trey Gowdy told Politico on Saturday. It’s easy to see why (although he’s being awfully whiny to say so). In less than a month, the legitimacy of Gowdy’s committee collapsed under the weight of the GOP’s bad faith and talent for farce. Now everything’s riding on Thursday, when Hillary Clinton appears before Gowdy’s committee for what’s expected to be a long day of questioning, as the GOP struggles to make its attempt to indict Clinton for the 2012 killings of four Americans in Libya what it was supposed to be: a liability for Clinton, and not Republicans.
The last month of drama is a great example of the way the media regularly forget what they already know, and has to learn it again to great fanfare: in this case, that the Benghazi committee was established to tie the tragedy around Clinton’s neck well into the 2016 presidential campaign, and thus damage her politically. There had already been seven investigations into what happened the night Ambassador Chris Stevens died at the less-than-adequately secured Libyan compound, and while they found fault with State Department process, they cleared Clinton, and the Obama administration, of the worst allegations about what happened. Nobody needed this investigation, which has spent at least $4.5 million and still counting, to learn what went wrong.
But the discovery earlier this year that Clinton used a private e-mail server while at the State Department suddenly gave Gowdy’s partisan crusade new life and, for a time, obscured its intent. Since then, Gowdy and his staff have leaked a steady toxic stream of half-truths about Clinton’s alleged mishandling of classified information, more than once inflating interagency security reviews into “criminal” investigations targeting Clinton herself. The New York Times alone has had to make multiple corrections to stories that relied on misleading committee leaks.
Maybe reporters were already getting tired of being embarrassed by Gowdy. Whatever the reason, when Republican majority leader Kevin McCarthy simply stated what he thought everyone already knew—that the committee had a partisan intent to damage Clinton—it was as though he broke the spell that had made the media forget the truth. “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” McCarthy told Fox News. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”
You could almost feel sorry for McCarthy when the ensuing backlash helped blow away his speaker candidacy: How could he get in so much trouble for stating the obvious?
But the hits kept coming. GOP Representative Richard Hanna unhelpfully defended McCarthy for telling the truth: “I think that there was a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after people, and an individual: Hillary Clinton.” An ex-staffer told The New York Times that the committee had become a “partisan” investigation designed to hurt Clinton, not get the truth of the attacks. In the ultimate unraveling, Gowdy got caught tampering with an e-mail to make it look as though a Clinton associate outed an intelligence agent—which the CIA itself said hadn’t happened—and in the process, Gowdy himself outed the intelligence agent.