Elections

Big day ahead for Benghazi committee and Clinton

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, during a campaign stop at the Westfair Amphitheater in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, during a campaign stop at the Westfair Amphitheater in Council Bluffs, Iowa. AP

The House of Representatives committee investigating the fatal attacks in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 spent $1,847 on printing this year. It spent $1,077 on bottled water. And it spent $570 on cabs and parking.

So far this year, the committee has doled out nearly $2.5 million, the vast majority for about 40 salaries as high as $172,500 annually.

The House Select Committee on Benghazi has proven more costly than permanent panels on intelligence, veterans affairs, ethics and small business, according to the Committee on House Administration, which collects monthly expenditure reports from each committee. Democrats even have a website constantly calculating the cost of the committee: $4,789,047 as of Tuesday.

Already facing criticism for costing taxpayers millions, the committee will face its most intense scrutiny Thursday when it calls Hillary Clinton to testify in what is expected to be a marathon hearing featuring the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president.

What do Hillary’s emails and Monica Lewinsky have in common? Both were scandals discovered because Congress investigated a Clinton. As Hillary prepares to appear before the Benghazi Committee on October 22, McClatchy political editor Steven “Buzz”

The Republican-controlled committee was formed in May 2014 to examine U.S. government policies that may have contributed to the attacks that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, and the response of the Obama administration, including Clinton, then secretary of state.

Seven other congressional committees and the bipartisan independent Accountability Review Board already have looked into the assault. Nearly all of them criticized the Clinton State Department for insufficiently addressing security issues at the diplomatic facility in Benghazi.

Supporters of the committee adamantly defend its work, saying the panel has been forced to take longer to investigate because the Obama State Department has been slow to cooperate.

“This investigation has always been about one thing: the death of four Americans,” said Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., a committee member. “We owe it to the American people to understand what happened and do what we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again. . . . This investigation can only conclude when all the facts are in and the truth has been revealed.”

Critics of the committee accuse the panel of rehashing what already has been examined in an effort to damage Clinton, who has been under fire for months for another matter – exclusively using a personal email account routed through a private server at her New York house to conduct government business while she was secretary from 2009 to 2013.

“It has no new answers for the families of the four who were killed on that tragic night, or for the American people,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a committee member. “When you consider the committee’s obsessive focus on attacking Secretary Clinton, the reason becomes quite clear: The majority has little interest in the events in Benghazi except to the degree they can be used to diminish her standing in the polls.” 

Clinton, who has dubbed the panel an arm of the Republican National Committee, agreed to testify as long as her testimony was delivered in public. She has spent days off the campaign trail preparing for one of the most pivotal moments of her campaign.

Other committees of the Congress, standing committees with other experienced members of staff, have all looked into this and basically just rejected the conspiracy theories that are still floating out there in some circles. . . . I will do my best to answer their questions. But I don’t really know what their objective is right now.

Hillary Clinton on Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union”

The Accountability Review Board – chaired by Thomas Pickering, President George H.W. Bush’s United Nations ambassador – in its December 2012 report called security at the facility in Benghazi “grossly inadequate.” As a result, four State Department officials were suspended but were reinstated by Secretary of State John Kerry in August 2013.

Several other congressional committees in the Republican-controlled House and the then-Democratic-ruled Senate followed. Most made similar conclusions. Some took a partisan tone.

At least two of the panels – the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee – attacked the Accountability Review Board probe.

For some . . . this report represented the final word on the internal failures that contributed to the tragedy in Benghazi. For others, however, the report overvalued certain facts, overlooked others, and failed to address systemic issues that have long plagued the State Department.

House Government and Oversight Committee on independent Benghazi review

Two Senate committees – the Homeland Security Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence – both noted that in the months leading to the attacks U.S. intelligence agencies knew of the deteriorating situation in Libya and that an attack was likely. But they did not say the U.S. government had specific intelligence of an imminent attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Security at some facilities had been bolstered, but it was not enough.

Republican committees placed more blame on the State Department. The House Foreign Affairs Committee said Clinton was “certainly aware” of warnings by the intelligence community before the attacks about the “deteriorating security environment in eastern Libya, including al Qaida’s expanding operations and the mounting risk to U.S. personnel and facilities.” The House Judiciary Committee blasted the State Department for “a fundamental lack of understanding at the highest levels . . . as to the dangers presented in Benghazi, Libya.”

The investigation by the House Intelligence Committee resulted in a quietly released report that debunked conspiracy theories espoused by some congressional Republicans and conservative outside groups that the Obama administration gave orders for security forces to “stand down” during the Benghazi attack.

Appropriate U.S. personnel made reasonable tactical decisions that night, and the committee found no evidence that there was either a stand down order or a denial of available support. The committee, however, received evidence that the State Department security, personnel, resources and equipment were unable to counter the terrorist threat that day and required CIA assistance.

House Intelligence Committee

The State Department says it has spent about $14 million to respond to all congressional Benghazi investigations, but that does not include the costs associated with Clinton’s email use. The Department of Defense says it has also spent millions of dollars. Other agencies have not said.

So far, the House Select Committee on Benghazi has interviewed 53 witnesses, 30 of which were not interviewed by the eight other groups, many of them Clinton aides, including an information technology specialist who maintained Clinton’s computer server and her longtime adviser Sidney Blumenthal, and sifted through thousands of pages of documents.

Democrats accuse Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., of running one of the longest inquiries of its kind – longer than those investigating Hurricane Katrina, Pearl Harbor, Watergate and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks.

And the inquiry does not appear to be near the end.

Gowdy said his committee will not be finished with its investigation until months before the election next year.

In the meantime, Clinton’s campaign and outside groups backing her candidacy are fighting back with a flurry of press releases and fact sheets, praise for her tenure as secretary of state, even a briefly run TV ad.

They have been reaping the benefit of a spate of bad publicity for the committee that started when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested the panel had caused Clinton’s poll numbers to drop. A second Republican, Rep. Richard Hanna of New York, said Republicans are using the inquiry as a political campaign against Clinton, while a former committee investigator says he was fired in part because he didn’t want to focus on Clinton.

Several Democrats have called on House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to disband the committee. A Democratic maneuver to kill the committee was defeated on the House floor.

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas

List of committees investigating the Benghazi attacks:

Accountability Review Board: A bipartisan panel convened by Clinton, as mandated by State Department rules. It released its report Dec. 18, 2012.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee: The watchdog committee of the House of Representatives issued its report Sept. 16, 2013.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee: Released its report Dec. 30, 2012.

Senate Intelligence Committee: Released its report Jan. 14, 2014.

House Judiciary Committee: A so-called “five chairmen” staff report because it involved the Judiciary, Oversight, Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Armed Services committees. Its report was released April 23, 2013.

House Foreign Affairs Committee: Released its report in February 2014.

House Armed Services Committee: Released its findings February 2014.

House Intelligence Committee: Issued its report on Nov. 21, 2014.

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