Eleven hours is a long damn time. Eleven hours is long enough to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco with two stops along the way to watch a movie and a football game in their entirety. And over the course of 11 hours of hectoring, insinuation and questions that started out redundant and turned into echolalia, Hillary Clinton never lost her cool. If she’s elected president, she should send every Republican member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi a needlingly effusive thank you card. They practically picked her up and carried her toward the White House.
As explained before, things weren’t going well for the committee even before Thursday’s marathon testimony. To begin with, it’s now the longest sitting special committee in American history, having surpassed the investigation into the Iran-Contra scandal and the historic Church Committee, which investigated not only Watergate but abuses by the CIA, FBI and NSA. That this committee has lumbered over the political landscape like some idiot golem willed into existence from a pile of trash only highlights the insignificance of its focus. Those other committees were merely about the power of the presidency, civil liberties and what kind of republic we have. The Benghazi committee is like Angie Jordan saying “ham” for 15 minutes.
If that weren’t bad enough, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy went and gave the game away, admitting the truth that anyone with two brain cells to rub together knew all along: that the committee’s signature accomplishment had been driving down Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers, which was the only reason for its existence in the first place. By the time Thursday’s events were gaveled into order, anyone paying attention knew they were about to bear witness to the toxic alchemy of campaign ratfucking melding with a surpassing waste of everyone’s time.
With that in mind, Trey Gowdy, Congress’ own version of Matthew Lillard lengthened by a machine press accident, had Hillary sworn in, in private, foregoing the political dynamite of an image of her once again standing with her hand raised and swearing to tell the truth. The civility and good sense ended there.
Despite being billed as a hard-nosed prosecutor, Gowdy let the proceedings wander all over the place, to the point where it’s impossible to tell what the Republicans even wanted to know, let alone what they thought they could charge Hillary with. Maybe it was her Libya intervention policy itself that failed, inevitably leading to the four deaths in the Benghazi compound. Maybe it was her email. Maybe she emailed with her buddy Sidney Blumenthal too much and Ambassador Chris Stevens too little. Maybe she didn’t care about the security staff. Maybe she tried to spin the attack afterward. Maybe she goes on political talk shows.
The Republican members of the committee demonstrated their ignorance on two issues repeatedly over the day’s duration. Many seemed totally unaware of the contents of previous Benghazi reports and testimony. If this had been a conventional courtroom, Clinton’s attorneys could have objected with “asked and answered” and turned the proceedings into 11 hours of tape hiss.
Many of the Republicans also seemed ignorant of how the State Department even functions. Republican Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana showed off a pile of Hillary’s emails pertaining to Libya from 2011 and another from 2012, then insinuated that the much smaller 2012 pile indicated her administrative indifference to the issue. Her case of the piles signaled an unawareness of the face that the State Department conducts the majority of its communications through cables, and that things like telephones exist, and that one of the unfortunate byproducts of conducting business on the telephone is that it doesn’t generate an email afterward. Even the most generous interpretation of her questions can’t elide the fact that the disparity in emails could easily have indicated general conversational traffic about Libya that eventually shifted to the official cable system as the maintenance of the Benghazi compound became more urgent.
Rep. Mike Pompeo of California did show a familiarity with the telephone that then wandered into absurd territory as he tried to show that Hillary was a much worse friend to Ambassador Stevens than she was to people she’s been friends with for decades, like Sidney Blumenthal.
POMPEO: Ambassador Stevens didn’t have your personal email, we’ve established that.
CLINTON: That’s right.
POMPEO: Did he have your cellphone number?
CLINTON: No, but he had the 24-hour number in the State Department that can reach me 24/7.
POMPEO: Yes, ma’am. Did he have the fax number?
CLINTON: He had the fax number of the State Department.
Well, hell, a fax machine, there’s your damning evidence that Hillary Clinton wasn’t willing to be found during an emergency: She didn’t give someone the number to a machine that she’d have to be standing next to, to notice a message churning out. He should have asked why they didn’t have prearranged hills to conduct semaphore chats on, or whether they’d picked out a lake to meet at and really rap about Libya via Aldis lamps. Still, Pompeo himself had the best joke about his line of questioning:
POMPEO: Did he have [your] home address?
CLINTON: No, I don’t think any ambassador has ever asked me for that.
POMPEO: Did he ever stop by your house?
“Hey, Chris, it’s Hillary. Texting you my addy, feel free to drive over from Benghazi.“
If that weren’t bad enough, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul dropped a proverbial turd in the Gowdy punchbowl midway through this line of questioning:
As ambassador in Russia, I enjoyed multiple ways to communicate with Secretary Clinton. Email was never one of them.
— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) October 22, 2015
Heaven knows what the you don’t love your ambassadors like you love Sid Blumenthal feint was supposed to accomplish. While there’s some obvious intrinsic value in dredging up a name from the Lewinsky scandal, the former New Republic writer and long-time Clinton friend has nothing whatsoever to do with Benghazi. If Gowdy meant to defuse the accusation that the committee’s investigation isn’t political, then he did himself no favors with this topic, especially when the committee’s ranking Democrat, Maryland’s Elijah Cummings, lit him up for it.
Cummings condemned the committee for selectively releasing portions of Blumenthal’s testimony, which Gowdy has justified under the argument that full transcripts will coach witnesses as to what kind of questions the committee asks, and allow them to prep evasive answers in advance. But of course Thursday’s hearings and the seven previous Benghazi investigations have already given potential witnesses almost all the information they’d need. The selective releasing and leaks only allow Gowdy to work the media with the choicest quotes, out of context, and stoke the Deceitful Clintons narrative again and again.
The unintentional comedy went off the charts when Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia actually said “aye” in response to Cummings’ call for transparency, leading Gowdy to shake his head at him and remind Westmoreland that his opinion was actually different. When Cummings kept pressing back, Gowdy raised his voice and said, “If you think you’ve heard about Sidney Blumenthal, wait for the next round.” Which, great — except, if you’re going to keep asking about someone totally unrelated to Libya, just cut the bullshit and subpoena Monica Lewinsky.
Reps. Peter Roskam and Jim Jordan had a much better idea anyway. When Clinton didn’t say the things they wanted her to, they interrupted her, dismissed her, badgered her with louder questions, made baseless assertions and eventually just started testifying for her.
Short of Ted Cruz, Jordan probably set the land speed record with most Americans for going from “guy I’ve never heard of before” to “guy I wish would jump up his own asshole.” His entire schtick seemed to be based on the presumption that bullshit magically turns into less bullshit the faster it comes out. During every round he eventually abandoned the slow pace of his first questions in favor of rapidly testifying at Hillary to produce the statements that neither she nor the factual record were able to provide him. “You picked the video narrative. You picked the one with no evidence. And you did it because Libya was supposed to be…this great success story,” he said during one of his filibusters. “You can live with a protest about a video. That won’t hurt you. But a terrorist attack will. So you can’t be square with the American people.”
This last bit was of a piece with the testimony from many of the Republican committee members in two ways. First, it relied on the notion that full intelligence of the Benghazi attack was not only instantly available but unambiguous, and that any inconsistencies in statements from intelligence offices, the State Department, the president and Susan Rice depended on Hillary’s intervening to misrepresent the record. This line of thinking relies not only on Hillary’s omnipotence within the American government but also requires her omniscience about Benghazi itself, by ignoring that one group falsely claimed credit for the Benghazi attack, and that there were simultaneous embassy protests around the world in response to the Innocence of Muslims video. Second, it relies on a false dichotomy between the planned actions of an Al-Qaeda-like group and spontaneous protest violence. By insisting that only one can be true, and that the State Department could only believe one interpretation, irrespective of changing events — instead of both interpretations driving disparate elements outside Benghazi compound — they automatically disingenuously classified half of any statements Clinton made on the issue as deliberate misrepresentation. That’s not how knowledge works: You’re supposed to adapt your theories when you get new data, and that change is value neutral. But under the Republican committee members’ theory of knowledge, everyone who believed the sun revolved around the Earth before Copernicus wasn’t unaware of astronomy — they were just lying.
But if Jim Jordan was a bulldog with his questions, Peter Roskam handled the job of pumping out smarm through a Spinal Tap amplifier. Like Jordan, Roskam just cut out the middleman and started testifying for Hillary. At one point, he said, “Secretary Clinton, I think you should have added this,” then began reading a rueful prepared first-person statement admitting guilt and shame, and asked Clinton if she agreed. The only flaw in his plan was that she said no, and also failed to move her mouth up and down while he spoke to give the impression that she was the one talking.
Roskam then illustrated a peculiar, though by no means uncommon, theory of Hillary’s Benghazi crimes. Namely, that Hillary refused to give “adequate” security to the Benghazi compound, because demanding further security would undermine the narrative she was trying to promote around Washington that Libya had been her own personal success. It’s a flawlessly savage criticism until the moment you realize that something that really wrecks the “Libya is a success!” narrative is four corpses, and that it relies on the premise that Hillary is somehow so calculating she would deprive the compound of security for appearance’s sake, yet not calculating enough to do the math of “one dead body, plus three more, equals something really bad.”
Ironically, on the success argument, Roskam also interrupted Clinton to accidentally explain what the Republicans’ “Clinton Doctrine” is:
“You just recited the Clinton doctrine to us and let me tell you what I think the Clinton doctrine is. I think it’s where an opportunity is seized to turn progress in Libya into a political win for Hillary Rodham Clinton. And at the precise moment when things look good take a victory lap like on all the Sunday shows, three times that year…and then turn your attention to other things.”
As is the case with almost all Clinton malfeasance, the definition of something unethical is Hillary doing anything literally every other politician does. This has always been their Clinton Doctrine, and ever shall be: Any behavioral convention, plus a Clinton, equals something illicit. (Every Republican on the committee took at least one opportunity to officiously announce that he or she would stop talking to allow Hillary to read something from her lawyers, who she had there advising her like some kind of guilty person.) Taking credit for your success at the moment it’s most relevant is something grubby and profane when a Clinton does it. My God, there were Americans at risk in the Middle East, and that dishonorable woman went on Sunday talk shows to promote herself. You know who would never do something like that? Lindsey Graham or John McCain. It’s like she didn’t even care about those people, a point that Republican Martha Roby of Alabama made while grilling Hillary about her visits with the survivors, minutes after failing to notice that she accidentally asked a sex question and insisted for the record that she is not amused and would never be amused.
Roby’s response made sense. Humorlessness was the order of the day, because something this preposterous threatened to shatter into a million little pieces if anyone started laughing at it. That an eighth investigation would turn up a smoking gun is funny. Committee members not knowing how the State Department works and not being familiar with questions already asked and answered is funny. Running out of new material so fast that they were already repeating themselves in hour two of an 11-hour marathon is funny. Having your enemy so dead to rights on the record that you have to testify for her and ask her to agree with monologues written for her is funny. Sabotaging your claims to political neutrality by obsessing over a guy like Sid Blumenthal, who most Americans don’t know or care about, is funny. Being undermined by your own House Majority Leader is funny.
But what’s downright hilarious is the entire hearing’s premise: that Hillary Clinton is simultaneously a conniving political manipulator who has bedeviled the American people and the Republican Party for nearly 25 years, and someone so stupid and incompetent that exhausting her with hours of parroted questions she’s heard a dozen times would make her fall apart. That’s just some primo thinking right there. This elusive mastermind’s a sitting duck! All we have to do is make sure she sees us coming from a thousand miles away.
And she did. It’s easy to make fun of the players here. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, the Republican members of the House Select Committee on Benghazi are certifiable. But you knew that already. What was uniquely stupid is that they just gave Hillary Clinton an 11-hour advertisement for her presidency on live TV.
Hillary’s reaction shots are already fodder for animated GIFs you’ll see until the day she dies. Idly brushing lint off her lapel and resuming meeting the gaze of whomever was barking at her in Hour Whatever. Resting her head on her hand and leveling a get a load of this bullshit gaze at two committee members bickering. Delivering yet another patient, resigned smile as if to say here we go again before answering something, yes, again.
She didn’t lose her cool under circumstances that would have sent any of us screaming for the exit or climbing over the dais to try to brain someone with a shoe. She was by far the most prepared person at the hearings and the most fluent in the details. She said the two funniest lines of the day, broke into a big natural grin, delivered a fairly riveting account of the fog of war during the events of the compound attack, and became visibly affected when talking about those harmed during it. The Republicans on the Benghazi committee just inadvertently put her through an 11-hour stress test of her intelligence, patience and composure as a leader. They just vetted their own opposition, and they did it through such a protracted, disingenuous, confused and obnoxious display that even people who have every right to feel ambivalent about her doubtless felt a twinge of sympathy.
The Republicans wanted Hillary Clinton’s head mounted on a wall, and they’ll get it. At this rate, barring something truly remarkable by Bernie Sanders, it will probably come in the form of her official presidential photo.