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“Little To Show For The Significant Rabbit Hole Expenditure”: Benghazi Investigation Spends Fortune To Harass Hillary Clinton

The Benghazi Select Committee moves slowly but spends quickly, exceeding the budget of the entire House Intelligence Committee.

On June 16th, the Benghazi Select Committee, meeting behind closed doors, questioned Hillary Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal for nine hours about emails he sent to the then-Secretary of State containing privately gathered intelligence reports from inside Libya.

The release of new emails from Mr. Blumenthal marked a milestone for the committee, characterized committee chairman, Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, as “noteworthy,” because no Congressional committee that “has previously looked into Benghazi or Libya has uncovered these memos.”

Yet there was no explanation as to how these emails contained any new insights or information about the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound and CIA base in Benghazi, Libya that resulted in the murders of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

Mr. Blumenthal himself noted “my testimony has shed no light on the events of Benghazi—nor could it—because I have no firsthand knowledge.”

This has been a consistent theme of the House’s investigation—a frenzy of media fireworks, with little substantive progress made in pursuit of the committee’s actual mandate. (The majority staff of the Benghazi Select Committee did not respond to requests for comment).

Led by a an 18-member Republican staff, whose full time employees are paid an average of $128,750 per year, the Benghazi Select Committee has proceeded at a plodding pace. Thus far, it has held only three hearings and by the end of this week will have interviewed just 29 witnesses. In comparison the Congressional investigation into the Iran Contra scandal lasted 10.5 months, during which time investigators conducted 500 interviews along with 40 days of public hearings.

The lack of progress is especially striking considering seven Congressional committees and a State Department Accountability Review Board already conducted inquires into the attack. Most recently the findings of the Republican led House Intelligence Committee found no evidence for many of the accusations hurled at President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other government officials.

Over 13 months the Benghazi Select Committee has spent more than $3,500,000, exceeding the budget of the entire House Intelligence Committee. This figure does not include significant expenditures made by the State Department and Defense Department to find and declassify material requested by the committee or the expense of witness travel for those who work for the government.

While exact dollar amounts spent by federal agencies are unavailable, details released about other declassification processes shed light on these costs. In March 2014 the Defense Department informed Democratic Rep. Adam Smith, they had spent “millions of dollars” and “thousands of man-hours to responding to numerous and often repetitive Congressional requests regarding Benghazi.” Currently the State Department has 12 full-time staff members paid between $63,700 and $150,000 reviewing Hillary Clinton’s emails “a process that could cost more than $1 million” according to the National Journal. The total cost for these document queries could run well into the eight figures. For example, the IRS spent $14 million responding to Congressional investigations into accusations it politicized the tax-exemption application process.

The Benghazi Select Committee has little to show for the significant expenditure—aside from a trail of unfulfilled promises by its Chairman. “We will have hearings in January, February and March,” Rep. Gowdy (R-SC) announced in December.

That never happened.

The committee held a single hearing in January, focused on berating State Department legislative liaison Joel Rubin about the production of documents. CIA representative Neil Higgins escaped with a mild talking to.

Two days after his December announcement, Rep. Gowdy told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren the committee would hold a hearing in January to explore why the State Department was in Benghazi. That hearing never occurred.

In February, Rep. Gowdy sent a letter to the committee’s ranking Democratic member Elijah Cummings (D-Md) informing him that “beginning as early as April I intend to start interviewing” a list of twenty prominent members of the Obama administration including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, Clinton State Department Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills among others.

According to a Democrat committee staff member, “The committee has yet to interview a single person on Gowdy’s list.”

In April, Gowdy again appeared on Van Susteren’s show claiming, “we’re doing four witness interviews a week, whereas we were doing two.”

A Democratic committee, who requested anonymity, aide told the Observer, “The Select Committee has never done four interviews a week.”

Rep. Gowdy now states the committee will continue its work into 2016 raising its cost to taxpayers to more than $6,000,000, casting his inaction as the result of the Obama administration’s slow pace at producing requested documents, a questionable premise. Rep. Gowdy began receiving documents in August. The committee did not make its first request to the State Department until mid-November, six months after beginning its work. His document request to the Department of Defense was only delivered in early April of this year.

Rep. Gowdy has proceeded in a similar vein while attempting to schedule Hillary Clinton’s appearance before the committee. In early September Stop Hillary PAC, which was “created for one reason only—to ensure Hillary Clinton never becomes President of the United States,” delivered a petition with 264,000 signatures demanding Gowdy call the Secretary of State to testify.

The next day, he asked Rep. Cummings to reach out to Ms. Clinton on his “behalf to determine whether she would testify.” On a November 12 phone call with majority and minority committee staff, Clinton’s team confirmed she would be willing to testify before the committee in December. Rep. Gowdy recently moved the goal posts, asking she appear for a private transcribed interview, as opposed to a public hearing.

Recently, the committee has shifted some of its focus from investigating the actual attack in Benghazi, to reviewing policy decisions made by Hillary Clinton regarding Libya more than nineteen months prior to the attack. Rep. Gowdy, confirmed this to Politico, which reported that “broader problems with the Obama administration’s Libya policy—could prove to be an ugly albatross weighing on the Clinton campaign.”

Rep. Cummings believes these efforts are part of “a fishing expedition for anything they can use against Secretary Clinton in her presidential campaign.” He continued, “After a full year, it now seems obvious that this investigation is being dragged out in order to attack Secretary Clinton and her campaign for president—squandering millions of taxpayer dollars in the process.”

In May of 2014 it was reported that Republicans worried that if they created a Benghazi Select Committee it would fail to produce tangible results. “Investigate and find nothing new, and the committee looks like a bunch of tin-hatted obsessives,” wrote Eli Lake. One House member told Lake, “This could be a rabbit hole.”

It has turned out to be an extremely deep one.

 

By: Ari Rabin-Havt, Featured Post, The National Memo, June 18, 2015; This piece originally appeared in The New York Observer

June 19, 2015 Posted by | Benghazi, Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Outdated Reference”: Millennials Don’t Really Remember Ronald Reagan, And That’s A Problem For The Reagan-Loving GOP

In the summer of 2004, when I was 16, Ronald Reagan died. Washington, D.C., was within driving distance of our home, so when my mom proposed we go see the former president lying in state in the Capitol, I was game.

But that experience is about the extent to which he features in my political consciousness. Since then, I’ve become more and more interested in politics and less and less interested in Ronald Reagan. It’s not that I’m anti-Gipper — though I have been known to make a few Zombie Reagan jokes with each passing election cycle. It’s just that fealty to Reagan is not the measuring stick I naturally reach for when evaluating a candidate.

I don’t think this Reagan apathy is unique to me. I’m a decade older than 2016’s first-time voters, who were born in — oh geez — 1998. When I was visiting the Capitol, they were getting ready to graduate from kindergarten. So if Ronald Reagan appears but dimly in my political consciousness, he’s almost on par with Millard Fillmore for them.

At best, Reagan might be a George Washington-type figure for some millennials: He’s got some good quotes and we may have vaguely positive feelings about him, but when it comes to concrete policy decisions, Reagan fades into the background, eclipsed by more recent figures and considerations.

This may be due to the way high school history is taught, with minimal attention given to everything post-Marshall Plan. (I left an Advanced Placement history class with no idea who or what an Iran-Contra was.) But I suspect a more significant factor is simply the passage of time: Reagan left the White House 10 years before this election’s new voters were born. At 18, that’s more than half a lifetime. Add to that the breakneck pace at which the modern news cycle moves and you have a perfect recipe for Reagan’s near irrelevance to the bulk of the younger generation.

No one at Republican headquarters seems to have really absorbed this fact yet, even though the voters who can remember Reagan are not the ones the GOP needs to worry about attracting.

Indeed, for Republican presidential candidates, appeals to Reagan’s legacy are de rigueur. Donald Trump, Bobby Jindal, and Ted Cruz are all eager to cite Reagan as the greatest president in recent history — even when that’s not the question they were asked. Carly Fiorina published an effusive blog post praising Reagan on his birthday during her 2010 Senate campaign; Rick Perry echoes his speeches; Rubio quotes Reagan quoting obscure quotes. Rand Paul mentions Reagan often on topics ranging from taxes to Iran, though he has been willing to call out Reagan’s intemperate fiscal policy.

Jeb Bush, to his credit, said in 2009 that Republicans should abandon the Reagan nostalgia for a more forward-thinking message. But so far his campaign isn’t living up to that hype — Bush has even hired numerous Reagan advisers to his own team. Similarly, Mike Huckabee argued in 2011 that Reagan would not be elected by the modern GOP, only to announce a “Reagan, Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II Tour” tour for pastors from early primary states. And Rick Santorum pointed out last year that Reagan is an outdated reference, but just two months earlier he’d all but claimed the Reagan mantle for himself.

And that’s the heart of the problem: that there exists such an idea as the “Reagan mantle,” and that it’s desired even by Republicans who seem to get that Reagan may not be the best campaign icon in 2015.

This is bad marketing for an aging party that struggles to appeal to young people, but it’s even worse for policy innovation. As Jim Antle has ably argued at The American Conservative, appeals to the idealized Reagan of the Republican establishment’s memory have led to an excessively hawkish, unthoughtful GOP that values economic freedom while discounting civil liberties (a defining issue for millennials, who aren’t exactly on board with Reagan’s acceleration of the drug war, either).

Of course, political movements need motivational figures, and conservatives are particularly inclined to be inspired by and committed to the past.

But the invocation of Reagan in the Republican Party today is a malleable shorthand for “things we like,” as the real Reagan’s legacy is reduced to a myth of low taxes and aggressive foreign policy. As Richard Gamble writes, it is difficult to “point to any concrete evidence that the Reagan Revolution fundamentally altered the nation’s trajectory toward bloated, centralized, interventionist government,” and keeping Reagan around as a tired symbol of small government makes it similarly difficult to progress toward that goal — or capture the interest of the next generation.

 

By: Bonnie Kristian, The Week, June 2, 2015

June 3, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Millennnials, Ronald Reagan | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Why Did Ronald Reagan Hate America?”: Once You’ve Decided, Everything Else Makes Sense And All The Pieces Fall Into Place

Ronald Reagan has been dead for more than a decade, but it’s long past the time for us as a nation to come to grips with the fact that this two-term president really didn’t love America. Scholars will have to debate whether he just had a mild distaste for the land of the free, or whether he actively hated America and wanted to see it laid low. But the rest of us need to confront this ugly legacy.

To begin with, Reagan came into office promising a fundamental change. As radio host Mark Levin recently said, “when somebody says they want to fundamentally transform America, well, then you must not love America.” By that measure, Reagan had no love. Here’s part of what he said in a speech on election eve, 1980:

In thinking about these questions, many Americans seem to be wondering, searching . . . feeling frustrated and perhaps even a little afraid.

Many of us are unhappy about our worsening economic problems, about the constant crisis atmosphere in our foreign policy, about our diminishing prestige around the globe, about the weakness in our economy and national security that jeopardizes world peace, about our lack of strong, straight-forward leadership.

And many Americans today, just as they did 200 years ago, feel burdened, stifled and sometimes even oppressed by government that has grown too large, too bureaucratic, too wasteful, too unresponsive, too uncaring about people and their problems.

Americans, who have always known that excessive bureaucracy is the enemy of excellence and compassion, want a change in public life—a change that makes government work for people. They seek a vision of a better America, a vision of society that frees the energies and ingenuity of our people while it extends compassion to the lonely, the desperate, and the forgotten.

All that talk of change, characterizing Americans as fearful and stifled? Why couldn’t Reagan just accept the country that had given him so much?

And it didn’t start in 1980. Back in 1965, Reagan promised that an America with a Medicare program would be a hellhole of socialist oppression. Only someone with no faith in our country could say something like this:

If you don’t [write letters to stop Medicare], this program I promise you, will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow and behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country until one day as Normal Thomas said we will wake to find that we have socialism, and if you don’t do this and I don’t do this, one of these days we are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.

I don’t know if he actually spent his sunset years running down America to his grandchildren, but it wouldn’t surprise me. And there’s more: Did you know that Reagan didn’t just pal around with terrorists like some people, he actually sold weapons to them? It’s true. How could anyone who loved America do such a thing? And when Islamic terrorists killed 241 brave American servicemembers, did Reagan stand up for America? No, he turned tail and ran, like some kind of cowardly commie. And he even apologized for America!

Where did all this disdain for America come from? We may never know. Maybe it was his upbringing, or the crowd he ran with in high school, or the Hollywood types he fell in with in his career as an actor.

I know what you’re thinking: Hold on, didn’t Reagan sing America’s praises in speeches all the time? Sure he did. For instance, he said, “I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.” He said, “You know, this country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores. Instead, it is that American spirit, that American promise, that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.” And he said, “We keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon knowing that providence is with us and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on earth.”

OK, it wasn’t actually Reagan who said those things, it was this guy. But those were the kinds of things Reagan said.

But anybody can say that stuff. How can you tell whether the words are being offered sincerely by someone who loves America, or whether it’s all a big lie? The key is to make the conclusion your starting point. Do that, and you’ll understand that when he criticized decisions made by a prior administration, he was actually making clear his hatred of America. You’ll know that you can look for the worst person he ever met one time at a party, and impute all that person’s views to him. You’ll be able to look at any action he took and find its true motivation in his contempt for this country. Once you’ve decided that Reagan hated America, everything else makes sense and all the pieces fall into place.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Writer, The American Prospect, February 20, 2015

February 21, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Republicans, Ronald Reagan | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rank Hypocrisy”: We Should Negotiate With Terrorists, We Always Have

I’m sure by now you have heard someone on TV say, of the five Taliban returnees, that we were going to have to give them back anyway, on cessation of hostilities. What you may not have heard said quite so often is why that is the case. But the reason is crucially important, because it brings to the fore one of the great hypocrisies under which the United States is forced to—or has chosen to—labor, and one we should do away with posthaste: this ridiculous idea that “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

With respect to the release of the hirsute quintet, here’s the deal. We declared war on the Taliban in 2001. “We,” the Bush administration, did this, although I confess I supported that war (never Iraq, though). Once we declared war on them and invaded their country, the rules of war applied. That means prisoners taken aren’t hostages. They are prisoners of war. And prisoners of war are accorded certain rights, some of which we violated but never mind that, and they are returned, usually at war’s end but sometimes before, through a process of… well, negotiation. It’s been this way since warfare began. And aside from prisoner exchanges, there is of course the matter of ending hostilities in the first place. That also must be negotiated.

“We” also—that is, President George W. Bush, by executive order—declared the Taliban a terrorist organization in 2002.  The group is not on the State Department list, but a presidential declaration has the same legal standing and force.

And so, the conundrum of illogic that these two declarations created: The Taliban are both an enemy combatant with which we absolutely must negotiate, and a terrorist group with which we absolutely must not negotiate.

Obviously, those two realities exist in tension. How do we resolve it? You might say “by not declaring war on them,” and it has to be said, in retrospect, that sounds like a damn good idea. It should never, ever, ever be forgotten, while these Republicans bang on at President Obama for everything he does, that he was put in this position only because we started fighting this 14-year war—the longest in our history; we defeated Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo in less than one-third the time—with fewer than 2,000 soldiers on the ground.  And we—excuse me, “we”—did that because our brilliant leaders knew at that point that they wanted to save the bigger numbers for taking out Saddam Hussein. So yes, in hindsight, no war in Afghanistan, at least as it was waged by the geniuses who created this world-historic catastrophe, sounds a good thought.

But at least in warfare, there are certain rules that go back millennia. The United States’ fight against terrorism is only about 40 years old, and it largely coincides with the years of right-wing backlash. And so, just as we had to start getting “tough on crime” domestically in the late 1970s with a series of policies that are in fact bankrupting states and municipalities and are plainly racist, as even America’s greatest conservative (and evangelical Christian!) criminologist acknowledged before his premature death,  we also had to be “tough on terrorism” abroad.

It’s hard to place exactly when “We don’t negotiate with terrorists” entered the political lexicon. It’s pretty clear that it was Ronald Reagan who first said it, maybe during the 1980 campaign, maybe later. What matters is that it was rank hypocrisy from the moment it flew out of his mouth. His transition team negotiated the Iranian hostages’ release behind Jimmy Carter’s back. That was certainly negotiating with terrorists. And what was the Iran-Contra affair? The overture was made to Iran (a terrorist state in American eyes, then and now) in the first instance in an effort to free some American hostages being held in Lebanon. The president who didn’t negotiate with terrorists negotiated a deal that gave the terrorism-sponsoring state more than 2,000 anti-tank missiles, maintaining in his mind the fiction that he hadn’t negotiated with terrorists through the belief that his people were dealing only with Iranian “moderates.” What these “moderates” were going to do with 2,000 anti-tank missiles except give them to the non-moderate, terrorism-sponsoring regime then engaged in a war with Iraq is one of the puzzles of the Reagan mind, but let’s press on.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 6, 2014

June 10, 2014 Posted by | POW's, Terrorism, Terrorists | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Realities Of Modern Warfare”: Why ‘We Don’t Negotiate With Terrorists’ No Longer Holds Up As Policy

Like so many Americans, I have spent the past few days assimilating as much information as possible regarding the circumstances involving the ‘player trade’ that will bring Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl home to the United States while five terrorists check out of Gitmo and make their way to freedom in Qatar.

While there seems to be no end to the ‘angles’ to be considered in attempting to reach a conclusion as to the propriety—both long term and short term—of the deal, increasingly I find that one of our more culturally ingrained and instantly accepted axioms has been challenged by this case and turns out to be a position that cannot—and should not—be allowed to govern our behavior in the future.

That axiom?

“We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

This is a sentence that few would challenge for all the obvious reasons—but one that has never really been true, despite the preposterous statement made by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, wherein he suggested that the President’s deal to retrieve Bergdahl ends the chapter in American history where we don’t negotiate with terrorists.

In 2007, a British IT consultant named Peter Moore, who had been captured in Baghdad by Shiite militiamen who ambushed Moore and his bodyguards, was freed after some 900 days in captivity. Sadly, only Moore would ultimately survive the experience as the terrorists murdered the remaining four members of his party.

To secure Moore’s release, the U.S. government agreed to free Qais al-Khazali who had previously served as a spokesman for the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr (remember him?). We had, most assuredly, negotiated with terrorists to arrange for Moore’s release and handed over a high value detainee in the process.

Note that Mr. Moore was a civilian—not military—and yet we freed a high value terrorists as the price for the freedom of an American captive.

In 1985, the Reagan administration used the Israelis to ‘front’ a deal (not unlike how we have used the Qataris in the instance of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl) whereby the Israelis freed 700 prisoners in trade for Americans that were taken captive on a hijacked TWA flight.

And then, of course, there is the whole Iran-Contra thing.

These are but a few examples of the secret dealing with terrorists that has long taken place.

But should we be following this rule more rigorously?

On it’s face, the notion of not negotiating with terrorists is a sensible proposition. When one choses to reward evil behavior by giving the bad guys what they want, it is reasonable to anticipate that these bad guys—and others like them—will continue their horrendous acts of violence knowing that there may well be a prize in it for them.

To that end, there is simply no getting around the fact that trading five supposedly high-value terrorists (there is disagreement as to how effective the released prisoners will be given their age and time out of the battle) for one unpopular U.S. serviceman may very well encourage others with ill intent to take more American soldiers from the battlefield and hold them for trade—not to mention civilians, diplomats or whomever.

However, where this accepted rule of thumb that demands no negotiating with terrorists comes into serious conflict with the reality of modern warfare is when it comes to members of our military who fight these wars.

Few would dispute that it is a fundamental mission of the U.S. military to do all it humanly can to avoid leaving any American combatant behind. This principle of warfare was, at one time, an easy one to grasp—if sometimes hard to execute—at a time when warfare involved a clash between nations fought by soldiers in the uniform of the nation they serve.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, June 5, 2014

June 8, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, POW's, Terrorists | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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