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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

“Rat Bait”: Beware Of Republicans Playing Games!

Because you may have missed this story over the weekend, here’s some important news for lefty critics of Hillary Clinton, via the New York Times‘ Parker and Corasaniti. It focuses on the biggest GOP oppo research operation of them all, and ever, America Rising:

For months now, America Rising has sent out a steady stream of posts on social media attacking Mrs. Clinton, some of them specifically designed to be spotted, and shared, by liberals. The posts highlight critiques of her connections to Wall Street and the Clinton Foundation and feature images of Democrats like Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, interspersed with cartoon characters and pictures of Kevin Spacey, who plays the villain in “House of Cards.” And as they are read and shared, an anti-Clinton narrative is reinforced.

America Rising is not the only conservative group attacking Mrs. Clinton from the left. Another is American Crossroads, the group started by Karl Rove, which has been sending out its own digital content, including one ad using a speech Ms. Warren gave at the New Populism Conference in Washington last May.

“Powerful interests have tried to capture Washington and rig the system in their favor,” intones Ms. Warren, as images of Mrs. Clinton with foreign leaders flash by.

The new-style digital campaign captures some basic facts about 21st-century communication: Information travels at warp speed on social media, it is sometimes difficult to know where that information comes from, and most people like to read things with which they agree. The result, said Ken Goldstein, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco who specializes in political advertising, is something more sophisticated.

“Politics is usually basic math,” he said, “and this is a little bit of calculus, thinking a couple steps ahead.”

You know, when it came out during Watergate that Richard Nixon’s campaign staffers were pulling this kind of crap in the 1972 Democratic primaries (mostly aimed at poor doomed Ed Muskie), it was a really big scandalous deal. Now it’s smart politics, or “calculus.” Progressives should beware playing their game.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 18, 2014

May 19, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Benghazi! The Musical”; Dancing, Shouting, Not Much Plot”: It’s Kind Of Like Oklahoma!, Only Rather More Grim

If Republicans in Congress really want to get Americans to pay attention to the Benghazi scandalette, they’re going to have to do some creative thinking. Since hearings and periodic expressions of outrage haven’t worked so far, maybe a musical would do the trick. A soaring ballad or two, some hopping dance numbers, maybe a pair of star-crossed lovers. Naturally, it would be called Benghazi!, kind of like Oklahoma!, only rather more grim.

But in the meantime, they’re going to go with a select committee to investigate the matter, as House Speaker John Boehner announced on Friday. One does wonder whether they think that if they just do some more investigating, they’ll uncover the real crime. No one knows what it is yet, but just you wait.

Or, as is far more likely, they’re just hoping to create a lot of bad news days for the administration, where the whiff of “scandal” surrounds the White House regardless of whether any malfeasance is actually uncovered. And could the fact that Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State at the time, the same Hillary Clinton who will probably be running for president starting very soon, have anything to do with it? Perish the thought.

You have to give Republicans this: for all the buffoonery of House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA), they’ve actually been somewhat restrained in their use of hearings to investigate the Obama administration, particularly compared to what they did to the last Democratic president. In the 1990s, Republicans in Congress held hearings to investigate everything short of whether Bill Clinton was flossing before bedtime. To take just one example, they heard 140 hours of sworn testimony on whether Clinton had abused the White House Christmas card list. If you’re too young to remember, that sounds like a joke. And it was a joke, but it also actually happened.

Given that Republicans despise Barack Obama at least as much as they did Bill Clinton, their more limited use of congressional investigations is rather puzzling. So maybe Boehner’s select committee is an attempt to make up for lost time. But there is little doubt that many Republicans sincerely believe that once the American people get a good look at how corrupt this administration is, they’ll be shocked and appalled. These are the same Republicans who believed that once Americans heard about Rev. Jeremiah Wright they’d never vote for Obama, and that once Americans heard about that “you didn’t build that” comment, they’d turn to Mitt Romney in droves.

You’ll be hearing the term “cover-up” a lot as they talk about Benghazi, but when you ask Republicans what exactly was being covered up, you’ll find that the suspected crimes have been downgraded significantly over time. They used to believe that someone high up in the administration—Clinton? Obama himself?—gave a “stand down” order to military units who could have gone into Benghazi and saved Ambassador Chris Stevens and the others at the consulate there, knowingly allowing Americans to die because…well, because something or other, they were never really sure. Now that we know that never happened, they’ll tell you that in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the administration was more concerned with putting a positive spin on the events than in getting to the bottom of it.

Which, depending on exactly whom you’re talking about, is true. Ben Rhodes, for instance, the author of the e-mailed memo released last week about which Republicans have gotten so excited, wanted his colleagues “[t]o underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” (You’ll note that he refers to “protests” in the plural, meaning not just what happened in Libya but also what occurred in Cairo and elsewhere.) So there you have it: an Obama administration official who is trying to make sure no one thinks there was a failure of policy!

That’s what we call “spin,” and whatever you think of it, it isn’t a crime (and it happens to be Ben Rhodes’s job; his title is “deputy national security adviser for strategic communications,” which is what you call someone when “director of foreign policy spin” sounds too crass). Nevertheless, they seem to believe that this new e-mail Changes Everything.

“We now have the smoking gun,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Charles Krauthammer pronounced the e-mail to be the equivalent of the discovery of the Nixon tapes, because it raises the vital question, “is there any involvement here of the White House which makes it obviously a political issue, the reelection of the president overriding the truth?” A White House, acting politically and concerned about the president’s reelection? Truly shocking. Someone must get to the bottom of this.

Keep this in mind as you watch Republicans get worked up into a froth over Benghazi in days to come: the terrible crime they think they’ve uncovered is that in those first few days, when it was unclear exactly what had happened there, the White House sought to portray the events in a way they thought would minimize political damage. That’s it. That’s the thing that was supposedly being covered up.

When you and I think of scandal and cover-up, we think of things like selling arms to terrorists, then diverting the revenues to fund a proxy war in direct violation of the law. Now that’s something you need to cover up! Or perhaps ordering break-ins, paying hush money, using the CIA to obstruct an FBI investigation, and committing so many crimes that dozens of officials, including the attorney general and the White House chief of staff, end up going to prison. That’s prime cover-up material. Or even the president having an affair with an intern half his age, which is something you’d probably want to cover up if you did it.

Watergate gave us the expression, “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up,” but it’s really both. Only when it comes to Benghazi, we have neither. There was a bureaucracy that may not have done enough to secure our missions overseas, a consulate that wasn’t prepared for violence that might have been foreseen, and a military without the ability to respond quickly enough when it happened. You can call it an unavoidable tragedy or a monumental screw-up. But if you’re looking for crimes committed at the highest levels of the administration, you’re going to be looking for a long time.

But as far as Republicans are concerned, you don’t need actual malfeasance, or evidence of an actual cover-up. As long as you have lots of subpoenas, and cameras to catch all the pounding of tables and expressions of outrage, you have all you need to put on a show.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 5, 2014

May 6, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Conspiracy Theories, House Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s All They’ve Got”: The GOP Hunt For A Watergate-Scale Scandal Continues

It was no surprise that White House spokesperson Jay Carney spent a healthy portion of his press briefing today talking about the latest White House email on Benghazi that has conservatives on the attack once again. As you’d expect, Carney described the whole thing as “an attempt by Republicans to politicize a tragedy,” adding: Like so many of the conspiracy theories that have promulgated by Republicans since the beginning of this, this one turned out to be bogus.”

Republicans, however, see it very differently. “We now have the smoking gun” on Benghazi, says Sen. Lindsey Graham. And the press is echoing this view. If you do a news search on “Benghazi smoking gun” you’ll come up with hundreds of articles from the last 24 hours. We’re talking about an email by national security adviser Ben Rhodes, written just after the attack in September 2012 and just released. As Dave Weigel demonstrates at length, there isn’t any smoking gun here.

But while the email doesn’t actually demonstrate anything criminal or corrupt, it does show that the silliness of spin goes all the way up near the top — on both sides.

This email is actually interesting, if not for the reasons Republicans want you to believe. The section of Rhodes’ email, written two days after the attack, that has people interested is some bullet points under the heading of “Goals”:

  • To convey that the United States is doing everything that we can to protect our people and facilities abroad;
  • To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy;
  • To show that we will be resolute in bringing people who harm Americans to justice, and standing steadfast through these protests;
  • To reinforce the President and the Administration’s strength and steadiness in dealing with difficult challenges.

What follows is a series of answers to potential questions about the attack and the administration’s response, always stressing the President’s strength and steadiness and steadfastness and statesmanship. Yes, this is what some of our top White House officials spend their time on.

Now, spinning, and advising others on proper spin, is part of Rhodes’ job. Is there something a little unseemly about that? Well, you might think so. But it’s a bipartisan endeavor, one undertaken in every White House and every member of Congress’ office, where communication staff spend their every waking moment wondering how they can make sure their boss looks good no matter what.

But to Republicans, when the White House does it, it’s not just unseemly, it’s downright criminal. They believe that because they are convinced that Barack Obama and everyone who works for him are corrupt down to their very core. And one of their great frustrations of the last five years is that this president, whom they loathe with such intensity, has not been caught actually doing anything that would warrant his impeachment, at least to that portion of the American public not scanning the skies for black UN helicopters coming to take their guns and force their kids to gay marry a Marxist Kenyan abortionist.

Over the last year and a half since the attack occurred, I’ve gone back and forth on what conservatives really think about Benghazi, in their quiet moments. At times, it has seemed like they genuinely believe that this was one of the worst cases of presidential malfeasance in American history. When I compared it to other genuine scandals, I can’t tell you how many wingnuts have poured into my Twitter feed with, “How many people died in Watergate? Huh? Huh?” When I attempted to patiently explain what Watergate was actually about and why it was such a big deal, they were unconvinced.

But at other times, I’ve gotten the sense that they’re making whatever they can out of Benghazi not because they really believe that they’ll find some criminality if they keep searching, but just because it’s all they’ve got. To their chagrin, this administration hasn’t had a major scandal on the scale of Watergate or Iran-Contra. While scandals like those got more and more serious the more they were investigated, the opposite happened with the ones in this administration: the closer we looked, the more it became apparent that we were talking about simple screw-ups, not corruption and malfeasance. That’s what happened with every one of the mini-scandals, from Solyndra to the IRS to Benghazi. The administration even managed to dispense $787 billion of stimulus money without so much as a hint of theft or double-dealing, which was a pretty remarkable achievement.

If Republicans had anything better to work with to show America that Barack Obama really is the pulsing heart of evil at the center of an administration riven with criminal wrongdoing from top to bottom, they wouldn’t be crying wolf at every new Benghazi email they get their hands on. Even after all this time, the “cover-up” they claim occurred wasn’t actually covering anything up, which is kind of the whole point of a cover-up. Yes, the White House was spinning in those first few days when it was still unclear exactly what had happened in Libya, spinning for all it was worth, to show how “resolute” and “strong” they were. They wanted to make sure no one thought there was any “broader failure of policy.” And did they mention that President Obama is strong and steadfast? Oh yes, he most certainly is. That may be silly, but it isn’t a crime.

 

By: Paul Waldman, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 1, 2014

May 5, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Illusions Of Grandeur”: Imaginary Republican Scandals Don’t Need Distractions

The “White House rocked by scandals” narrative clearly didn’t work out well for President Obama’s critics. The Benghazi conspiracy theories proved baseless; the IRS story quickly evaporated (even if most of the political world ignored the exculpatory details); and the AP subpoenas and NSA surveillance programs turned out to be policy disputes — on which many Republicans agreed with the administration’s position. As Jon Chait recently put it, “The entire scandal narrative was an illusion.”

But a funny thing happened after Scandal Mania 2013 ended: the right decided to pretend the narrative remained intact.

National Review ran a fairly long piece this week, arguing, “The truth about Benghazi, the Associated Press/James Rosen monitoring, the IRS corruption, the NSA octopus, and Fast and Furious is still not exactly known.” The headline read, “Obama’s Watergates.” (Yes, the president doesn’t have a Watergate; he has multiple Watergates.)

Yesterday, Marc Thiessen’s latest Washington Post column insisted that the IRS’s “political targeting of [Obama’s] conservative critics” — which, let’s remember, didn’t actually happen — is “undermining our nation’s security” and “has exposed Americans to greater danger.”

And on Fox News, Steve Doocy has cooked up a conspiracy theory that addresses his conspiracy theories.

“Remember last week all the talk was about ‘phony scandals’ and all that other stuff and the NSA and the IRS and suddenly we get this alert that something could be happening in the Arab world somewhere toward western interests, and it is pro-administration. We’ve heard this a million times. […]

“Just that they would reveal such detail. They burned a source and a method, and that’s the problem. They could still say be careful if you’re in these areas. But to be so specific to make it look like the administration is working overtime, look at these fantastic avenues of intel, that is troubling.”

So, for Doocy, the White House leaked sensitive national-security information to distract attention from scandals that don’t actually exist.

It’s awfully difficult to take this line of argument seriously.

Several news organizations learned of the administration intercepting al Qaeda communications — we do not yet know the source of the leaks — which led to the closings of many U.S. diplomatic outposts in the Middle East and North Africa. For some on the right, this was part of an elaborate White House scheme.

But that really doesn’t make any sense. For one thing, Scandal Mania is over, and there’s no incentive for the administration to turn attention away from stories that the political world has largely given up on. For another, the administration doesn’t gain anything by leaking news of the intercepted messages.

Wait, the right responds, the White House now gets to implicitly argue, “NSA surveillance is really important so these programs shouldn’t be shut down.” But the administration doesn’t need to say that — efforts to stop NSA surveillance aren’t going anywhere, at least not now, and the programs were going to continue anyway.

There are no Watergates for the right to play with here.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 7, 2013

August 8, 2013 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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