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“Why Was He Even Called In The First Place?”: Hillary’s Aide Right To Plead The Fifth

The Benghazi Committee is a Sham.

So many questions about Bryan Pagliano, the Clinton campaign IT guy who’s invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to testify before the Benghazi committee, and all of them—yes—swirling! Who is this guy? What’s he hiding? What did he know, and when did he know it? Egad. Trouble with a capital T.

And here’s another question about Pagliano, one that I bet maybe hasn’t occurred to some of you: Why, exactly, is the committee that is investigating the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi subpoenaing an IT guy in the first place?

Now if Trey Gowdy were here, I’d imagine he could drum up some quasi-respectable seeming answers. Well, Pagliano might have wiped Benghazi-related emails from the infamous server. But in reality, I doubt the committee even cares very much what he does or does not know about Benghazi. As I wrote Wednesday, the committee now has nothing to do with Benghazi.

And Gowdy has even basically said as much. On Fox on August 16, Chris Wallace asked Gowdy what all this email business had to do with Benghazi, and Gowdy said, “Well, probably not much of anything.” He went on to try to regain his footing by asserting that “my focus is on the four murdered Americans in Benghazi, but before I can write the final definitive accounting of that, I have to make sure that the public record is complete.”

That sounds nice and innocent, but here’s what appears to be Gowdy’s idea of a complete public record. It includes making more than 40 witnesses testify—but in private, providing testimony that has not been and evidently will never be disclosed.

Some witnesses have wanted to testify in public, the better for all of us to judge, but Gowdy said no. Former Clinton aide Cheryl Mills saw her requests to testify in public this week rebuffed by the Republican majority, so she is testifying in private—complying, even though she knows very well that doing so means that her testimony will probably be leaked selectively and out of context. She will presumably demand that the full transcript be released, as Sid Blumenthal did, and the committee will say no, as it has with Blumenthal (technically, the majority has just ignored the minority’s request for a vote on the matter).

So, all these witnesses, and we’ll never know what any of them said. We’ll just be left depending on leaks from Gowdy’s investigators to the every-hungry Times. That’s some “public record.”

In the face of that, of course Pagliano is refusing to testify. I promise you, you would too. Pagliano thought bubble: “Hmmm, let’s see. I’m being offered the opportunity to go behind closed doors before a committee that already has a history of leaking stuff to make people look as bad as they can make them look in order to establish some piece of innuendo about Clinton. And I get to run up what, $50,000 or $70,000 in legal fees for the privilege? No thank you.” The Fifth Amendment applies to Pagliano every bit as much as it applies to that great American Ollie North, who invoked it back in 1986.

Ah, 1986. I pointed out the other day that this has now gone on longer than the Church Committee hearings on intelligence abuses, which in the mid-1970s dug into extremely serious systemic abuses of power by our government. Do you know also that the 1986 Iran-contra hearings, at which North pleaded the Fifth, lasted just 10 months and 13 days? The Benghazi committee, meanwhile, has now lasted for 15 months and counting. On September 24, it will pass the duration of the Watergate committee. The Watergate committee!

Oh, and by the way, the Watergate and Iran-contra committees both called upwards of 500 witnesses each. This committee has called, as noted above, around 40. Why? Well, it may be because Gowdy is an extremely judicious fellow. Or it could be because Watergate and Iran-contra investigators had actual serious work to do, probing as they were White House-based conspiracies to violate existing U.S. law, while Gowdy is obviously just fishing around on the off chance that he finds some evidence that Clinton or an aide made some classification error that can be hung around her neck.

Yes, yes, Clinton invited all this to some extent, yadda yadda. I’ve written that plenty of times. But people need to understand just how without precedent this committee is. I can’t think of a case when a Democratic congressional majority did anything like this. The investigation into the Bush administration firing of the U.S. Attorneys comes to mind, but that was handled completely differently. No special select committee was named. Those probes were just handled by the standing Judiciary committees, and it all went down fast—Congress held its first hearings in April, and by August, the hearings were done, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and others had resigned.

Gowdy will say that he has to keep his committee alive as long as the State Department is dragging its heels on turning over a few emails. Lately they’re on a mad hunt for two emails from September 29, 2012, which were about prepping Clinton for a meeting with an unnamed senator in the aftermath of the attacks. Well, at least it’s about Benghazi, in a way, although what illuminating or incriminating information could be found in an email written two-plus weeks after the attack kind of eludes me (“Remember now, Madame Secretary, DON’T mention that you ordered that the military stand down because you didn’t care if Chris Stevens died!”).

But anyway it’s a weak argument. The Bush administration too withheld many emails from Congress during the U.S. Attorneys flap, and Congress still just got on with its work as best it could. That’s what a Congress usually does—it works, a little, with the minority party, and it tries not to do anything too embarrassing to the body, tries not to precipitate a blood sport crisis. But blood sport crisis is this committee’s raison d’être. I don’t blame Pagliano a bit for not feeding them his carcass to gnaw on.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, September 4, 2015

September 5, 2015 Posted by | Benghazi, Hillary Clinton, Trey Gowdy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It Was ‘Partisan Garbage’ Then”: When Fox News Didn’t Blame The (GOP) President For Beheadings

After terrorists kidnapped and beheaded two American journalists, James Foley and Steven Sotloff, while releasing gruesome videos of the act, Fox News focused much of its ire on President Obama, portraying him as a source of troubling weakness.

“The president stuck his head in the sand, and now we’ve seen two Americans have lost their heads,” insisted Fox analyst K.T. McFarland. Colleague Ralph Peters claimed of the president’s foreign policy, “We have a president who has a real physiological problem: that he can’t face responsibility and certainly not the responsibilities of his office,” while Sean Hannity wondered if Obama’s “radical indoctrination” had clouded his judgment.

On and on it goes, as the blame-America finger pointing takes up hour after hour of programming. The Washington Times’ Charles Hurt on Wednesday wanted to know when Obama would stop acting like a community organizer and start hunting down the killers. Charles Krauthammer condemned Obama for not rising to the occasion, while former Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on Fox to claim world leaders see the president as “weak and ineffective” in the wake of the most recent beheading.

That last part is telling because in the spring of 2004, when Cheney was vice president and the misbegotten war he championed was raging in Iraq, two American citizens, Nick Berg and Paul Johnson, were also kidnapped by Islamic terrorists and were also beheaded for the world to see. But of course, Cheney didn’t see that as a sign of President Bush’s weakness and ineffectiveness, and neither did the White House’s loyal band of professional defenders at Fox News.

Even six years into Obama’s presidency, it’s still stunning to see how radically different Fox presents the news and frames its commentary based entirely on which party controls the White House. When Bush was president, Fox talkers urged that Americans come together and support the administration as it battled lawless killers (“murders,” “sadists,” “savages”) who decapitated Americans.

In 2004, Fox hosted long conversations about the beheadings and Bush’s name was often never even mentioned. He was a non-player in the story. But today, the beheadings revolve around Obama.

With a Democratic president, many of those same 2004 talkers now turn their attention, and their wrath, to Pennsylvania Avenue and use the deaths as a cudgel to bash the president as being impotent. i.e. He didn’t prevent the deaths! Of course neither did Bush, but the Fox rules of propaganda were different for him.

Nick Berg was working in Iraq as an independent contractor fixing antennas. He disappeared on April 9, 2004. His decapitated body was found near an overpass in Baghdad, and soon a video of the beheading appeared on a website associated with al Qaeda. (On his radio show, Sean Hannity aired the unedited audio of Berg’s dying screams.)

Four weeks after Berg’s murder, terrorists abducted Paul Johnson, a Lockheed Martin engineer who lived in Saudi Arabia. They demanded the Saudi government release all its al-Qaeda prisoners. Days later, on June 18, Johnson was murdered on tape. (After the beheading news broke, Bush made a brief public statement and then boarded a plane to attend a Bush-Cheney `04 campaign rally in Nevada.)

That day, Fox News host Oliver North appeared on Hannity & Colmes and announced that the media and Democratic politicians, including Sen. Ted Kennedy, “had blood on their hands” because they had been denouncing the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib by American soldiers; torture that Johnson’s killer’s cited in his death video.

Unlike today, the president in 2004 was completely blameless in the beheading deaths, according to Fox News. Democrats? Not so much.

Obviously, news of Americans being beheaded by terrorists ran counter to Bush’s 2004 re-election claim of being able to protect citizens in the War on Terror. Hannity at the time, who can’t stop criticizing Obama today, was adamant that Democrats stop criticizing Bush.

In June 2004, Hannity used news of Johnson’s death as a reason Democrats should stop attacking the president politically while the country was engaged in “World War III”  [emphasis added]:

HANNITY: Richard, the shrillness of the rhetoric, a vice president of the United States screaming that — Al Gore screaming Bush betrayed America. Are we taking limited resources and the president and his cabinet have to spend all that time fighting politically when they ought to be focused in on World War III? It’s time that we now unite a country, using this as the latest example that we have been warned. They want to kill us all?

RICHARD MINITER: I completely agree. I think politics should stop at the water’s edge. We should go back to the Scoop Jackson Democrats where they would argue like heck about domestic policy, but during a war they would not attack the president or the military.

On that point, Hannity and colleague Bill O’Reilly were in complete agreement. From The O’Reilly Factor on June 18, 2004, commenting on Johnson’s repulsive execution:

O’REILLY: It is becoming readily apparent that the United States, we, the people, have to unite. And if we don’t unite, we’re going to see this happen more and more, and then on a mass scale.

We’ve got to stop with the partisan garbage, because that’s what it is, and we’ve got to stop with the selfishness and understand that this is a war. This is something we have never faced before. And stop the grand standing. And the politicians who exploit this for partisan benefit on both sides have got to be voted out of office. We have got to unite.

Contrast that with O’Reilly on Wednesday night’s program when he urged Obama to “stop his confused posture, his stammering, stuttering” in the wake of the beheadings. O’Reilly attacked the president for wanting to “punt” on the crisis and said he would be doing Americans a “great disservice” if he refused to “formally declare war on Muslim terrorism.”

Today, good luck finding calls on Fox News for unity – the network is too busy trying to use the tragic murders to damage and debase the president.


By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, September 5, 2014

September 8, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Fox News, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In The Land Of Conservative Forgetting”: The Right Didn’t Mind When Bush Paid A Ransom To Terrorists

The Bowe Bergdahl story moves to the hearing stage this week, so we’ll be treated to the sight of preening House Republicans trying to press Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on when it was that he, too, started hating America. Meanwhile, over in the fever swamps, speculation is growing about an alleged “ransom” the Obama administration may have paid to bring Bergdahl home. That Ollie North, of all people, started this talk is one of those laugh, cry, or shoot-the-television moments that now assault our synapses with such regularity; it’s like Judas calling John or James a traitor, or Bernie Madoff aspersing Warren Buffett as a swindler.

North aside, the charge is picking up steam. Fox “News” “reported” that a ransom was on the table last year. The Free Beacon the other day quoted a “senior intelligence official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press,” who “speculated” that a cash payoff to the Haqqani Network, Bergdahl’s captors, surely had to be involved; the whole story made no sense otherwise. Get the picture? The typical evidence-free allegation, oxygenated by rife speculation from the usual suspects, who have no knowledge of anything but just want to get a meme started. So far, among elected officials, only House GOPer Steve “I’m Even Too Out There for Texas Republicans” Stockman has uttered the r-word.

But what starts with Stockman rarely ends with Stockman. And so I predict this charge is going to become a central talking point on the right in the coming days and weeks. Why wouldn’t it? It’s as high-voltage an allegation as Republicans can muster up. It carries, in its crude form, a subtext not only of colossally naive misjudgment but quite possibly of treason: the idea that not merely did the Manchurian president pay too high a price in the form of the Taliban Five to get back a good-for-nothing deserter, but now he (the theory will go) paid cash money to an evil terrorist network, thus helping to finance the group’s operations against America. As North, who knows whereof he speaks on the subject of abetting terrorists, put it: “Was there a ransom paid? Did the government of the United States, either directly or indirectly, finance a terrorist organization?”

This would all be quite shocking if proved true, right? And maybe even legitimate grounds for impeachment. Funny, though—it somehow wasn’t either of those things in 2002, when the Bush administration did it.

We turn now to the Philippines, where the Abu Sayyaf terror network—Islamic fundamentalist, al Qaeda-linked, occupant of a slot on the State Department’s official terrorist-organization list since Bill Clinton put it there in 1997—was rampaging around the southern archipelago and taking Westerners hostage. Two such hostages were an American husband-and-wife missionary team, Martin and Gracia Burnham. They were kidnapped in May 2001. Their captivity was a pretty big story for a while, but then came September, and the inferno of Lower Manhattan.

The Abu Sayyaf M.O. was the normal one—to demand large (or oddly not so large; the original demand for the Burnhams’ safety was $1 million) sums of money for their captives’ safe return. There were talks, and they bled into 2002. In April of that year, Bush gave a speech that included the line: “No nation can negotiate with terrorists, for there is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death.”

A nice line. But of course, at that exact moment, the United States was negotiating intently with Abu Sayyaf for the Burnhams’ release. And not only that: The Bush administration arranged an indirect payment to Abu Sayyaf of $300,000, as reported a little later by ABC’s John McWethy, the veteran Pentagon correspondent, and even by Fox’s Brent Baier, whose phrasing had it that “the U.S. government facilitated a ransom payment to al Qaeda-linked terrorists.”

It seems that the payment was indirect rather than direct. But these days, that’s good enough for Ollie North (go reread his quote above). Even an indirect payment by the Obama administration to the Haqqani Network would clearly have these people screaming for impeachment hearings.

But then? Well, that was different. It was after 9/11. Bush was our Churchill. We were strong then, united! And sure enough, I find little record of conservative talking heads or elected Republicans criticizing Bush then, and alas not even any sense that cowed Democrats said much of anything. Those were the days of watching what you said, watching what you did.

Oh. I forgot one detail. We “facilitated” the ransom, but even then we still failed: Poor Martin Burnham was killed in a skirmish when the Philippine army stormed the compound to rescue the couple. Gracia lived, and lives on now. But just imagine that Obama had “facilitated” a ransom to Haqqani, and yet Bergdahl had been killed during a rescue mission. I don’t think I need to complete that thought.

And so here we are again, in the land of conservative forgetting. I do hope, as these hearings commence and House Republicans start raising questions about a possible ransom, that some of their colleagues remind them.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June10, 2014

June 12, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, House Republicans, Terrorists | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Enter Oliver North”: The GOP’s Bergdahl Backlash Has Slipped Into Farce

If you were to think of the person least qualified to criticize the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap, it would have to be someone who oversaw an even more controversial prisoner exchange. Throw in an illegal weapons sale, multiple felony charges, and bingo, you’ve got a guy with basically zero credibility to throw stones on this issue.

Enter Oliver North.

Yes, the former Reagan aide best known for his role in the Iran-Contra affair is miffed about the Bergdahl deal. North exhibited a complete absence of self-awareness Tuesday by baldly insisting, without evidence, that the Obama administration or one of its allies paid a hefty price to grease the deal.

“Someone paid a ransom,” he told Newsmax, estimating that it was probably around $5 million or $6 million.

“And if a ransom was paid, either at our behest or with American tax dollars,” he later told Fox News’ Sean Hannity, “it means this government is causing to be funded a criminal enterprise that kills Americans.”

North even had the gall to boast that he was uniquely qualified to discuss the brouhaha because he knows “a lot about hostage negotiations.”

Indeed, he does. North and other Reagan officials orchestrated illegal arms sales to Iran to rescue American prisoners, and then used the proceeds to finance a secret war in Central America. North was convicted of multiple felonies, though an appeals court later reversed the rulings.

So yes, it’s safe to say North knows a thing or two about hostage negotiations.

North’s foray into the debate would be merely laughable if it weren’t part of the GOP’s larger pattern of gleeful political opportunism on the issue.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — himself a former POW freed in a mass prisoner exchange — called the swap a “mistake.” Months earlier, he said he was “inclined to support” such a deal. Other Republican lawmakers who’d previously called for Bergdahl’s release have suddenly changed their tune as well. Some even deleted from digital media their praise for the administration’s handling of the situation.

Meanwhile, a GOP strategist raced to line up critics of Bergdahl who served with him, an act that smacked of swiftboating. And the National Republican Campaign Committee, perhaps predictably, has already begun using the scuttlebutt to fundraise for the party.

To be sure, there are several legitimate questions that can be asked about the swap. Perhaps most significantly is the concern raised by many lawmakers, including some Democrats, that the administration did not properly keep Congress abreast of the negotiations.

But we’ve seen the GOP go down this path too many times before, seizing on every scandal, manufactured or not, to paint the administration as untrustworthy, lawless, and basically evil. It is the latest #Benghazi for the GOP to flog mindlessly and endlessly in hopes of somehow alchemizing campaign gold from their outrage.

Rather than focusing on whether Bergdahl deserted his troops, or whether the Taliban prisoners handed over were too dangerous to set free, the GOP has instead focused the bulk of its energy on re-upping the exaggerated portrait of Obama as a reckless, incompetent “emperor” who needs to be impeached.

Trotting out Oliver North of all people to tsk-tsk the administration moved the backlash from over-the-top whinging to outright farce, and revealed for the umpteenth time that there’s no bottom the GOP won’t scrape.


By: Jon Terbush, The Week, June6, 2014

June 7, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, Prisoner Exchanges | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Return Of The War Party”: The Hoary Old Voices Of Blood Lust Are Heard Again

Whatever else it has done, the Ukraine crisis has served as a major tonic for American conservative foreign policy hawks, who have recently been losing ground not only with the general public but inside the Republican Party, where hatred of Barack Obama has sometimes trumped the desire for an interventionist foreign policy.

Now hoary old voices of blood lust are heard again, even at the young-libertarian-skewing CPAC, per this account from Dave Weigel:

Twenty-five years since Oliver North was convicted for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair. Twenty-three years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. And yet here he is, the ever-more grizzled “host of ‘War Stories’ with Oliver North,” standing between American flags and issuing warnings about the Russian bear.

“The people of Ukraine are this very minute paying the terrible price for America’s leadership deficit disorder and the Obama organization’s utopian rush to unilateral disarmament,” says North. “That’s where we’re headed. We don’t need a head of state who guts our defenses and draws phony red lines with a pink crayon.” North pauses for the guffaws. “Yeah, I did say that.”

Conservatives had been hating the Russians long before they had been Standing With Rand. All day Thursday, the thousands who packed into CPAC’s main ballroom heard their movement’s icons cry out against isolationism. They’d known foreign adventurism and intervention as Obama policies, blights on both parties, not part of the Republican Party they were rebuilding. They were being tested, and by people who claimed to know much more about how the party should defend America.

“Can you just imagine Ronald Reagan dealing with Vladimir Putin?” asks onetime UN Ambassador John Bolton, one of the only representatives of the George W. Bush administration to show at CPAC. “Reagan called a strong defense budget the ‘vital margin of safety.’ We are losing that vital margin all around the world. … Putin has a growing defense budget and ours is shrinking.”

If you’re Standing With Rand, that’s never worried you. The senator had supported the forced cuts of sequestration, encouraging his colleagues to “jettison some of the crap” in the defense budget and live with lower spending levels. If you’re, say, a 21-year-old CPAC attendee, you were born after the Soviet Union dissolved. You were 8 years old on Sept. 11, and maybe 10 for the start of the war in Iraq. You’ve never been a hawk.

But the average rank-and-file member of the Republican “base” isn’t a 21-year-old college student wearing a “Stand With Rand” t-shirt, is it? More typical is a 65-year-old white man whose first political memory was the Goldwater campaign, in which the desire to “lob one into the men’s room of the Kremlin” was as strong a mobilizing sentiment as hostility to such unconstitutional domestic measures as Medicare or the Civil Rights Act. On the long path from then to now, some of conservative activists’ most thrilling moments, in fact, involved smiting college students opposed to overseas military adventures, from the “effect corps of impudent snobs” denounced by Spiro Agnew during the Vietnam War to the sniveling appeasers willing to let Saddam Hussein run amok. So of course it is second nature for older conservatives to take the rhetorical uniform of the Cold War, dry-cleaned recently for the occasional march for war with Iran, out of the closet for its original purpose. And the return of the war party was notable at CPAC:

[A]t CPAC, you’re seeing the hawks sprint back into the spotlight. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio uses his Thursday speech to rally conservatives in a global fight against “totalitarianism.” Afterward, he tells the New York Times that “there are forces within our party, there have always been in American politics, that basically say, ‘Who cares what happens everywhere else? Just mind our own business.’”

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz ventures from the main conference to an alternative all-day meeting of hawks—itself, a sign of how much ground has been lost to the libertarians—and explains how he differs with Paul. Sure, the Kentucky senator was right about Syria, but the hawks were right about Iran.

It will be fascinating to watch this, the one real ideological “split” within a right-wing dominated Republican Party, work its way out during the 2016 presidential cycle.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 10, 2014

March 11, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Ukraine | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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