Hillary Clinton vs. the Benghazi Committee

Right From the Start

Right From the Start

For those of you expecting new revelations on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s involvement in the Benghazi disaster, or her use of a private email account and unsecured server for State Department business, or the convenient timing of donations to her foundation and to her husband, former President Bill Clinton by those seeking State Department approvals, contracts, or other actions, you are going to be deeply disappointed. There will be no revelations, no points scored, and definitely no admissions by Ms. Clinton. Ms. Clinton will emerge unscathed despite the fact that she has lied and withheld evidence every step of the way. She and her supporters will crow about how she faced down those mean-spirited Republicans who were just “trying to tamp down her poll numbers.”

If you are expecting more from the Benghazi committee hearing this Thursday then you haven’t been watching congressional committee hearings over the past seven years. These congressional hearings are not designed to elicit the truth; rather they are designed to allow the members of Congress to posture, preen and pose, to gather sound bites and video for future campaigns and to obfuscate the truth with stagecraft and contrived outrage. (It is all reminiscent of a time in 2002 when then senate minority leader, and now governor, Kate Brown (D), and then house minority leader and now Multnomah county commissioner, Debra Kafoury (D), stomped out of a budget negotiating session during one of the interminable special sessions after giving each other “the nod.” It was so calculated and contrived that several of us laughed on their way out of the room.)

Unless the rules have been changed, each member of the committee is given a limited amount of time to ask questions of the witness. Generally the questioning alternates between the two parties. Because the time is so limited, veterans of these hearings have learned to provide evasive answers in the first instance with the sure knowledge that with a little “filibustering” the witness can “run out the clock” on the questioner and most assuredly can avoid any attempts to “drill down” to the truth with follow up questions. This is made all the more true because of the insistence of members to bloviate about themselves before they get to the actual questions – all of which eats into their prescribed time. Ms. Clinton has proven to be an expert in this regard. Evasion is her middle name and running out the clock is her game.

And then there will be Ms. Clinton’s supporters – in this instance most of the Democrats on the committee have already publicly expressed their support for Ms. Clinton. They will have an equal opportunity to serve up “soft balls” in the form of questions that have either been drafted by Ms. Clinton’s operatives or at least shared with them to ensure that they will give Ms. Clinton the opportunity to expound on her virtues and criticize those who doubt those virtues. She will be well rehearsed in responding to these “planted” questions and you will know that by her “tell” – her involuntary habit of nodding when she knows what the question will be.

There is, however, a small opportunity to get closer to the truth. The committee’s chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), is an experienced federal prosecutor. He knows how to deal with a recalcitrant witness, misleading witness and lying witnesses – in other words, Ms. Clinton. Should Mr. Gowdy reserve to himself the opportunity to examine Ms. Clinton without a time limitation (or should the other Republican members cede their wasted time to him) there is a chance that Mr. Gowdy can either elicit the truth from Ms. Clinton or to demonstrate succinctly that she is being less than truthful.

But then Ms. Clinton knows that even if she lies, even if she is evasive, even if she withholds evidence, nothing will happen. If the leadership of the House finally gathers enough courage to actually hold someone in contempt, the actual prosecution of that contempt charge is left to President Obama’s Justice Department that has a lengthy and unbroken record of refusing to prosecute.

That folks, is what substitutes for the truth, for integrity in government, and for leadership in Congress. No wonder our politicians, Republican and Democrats alike, are held in such high disrepute.