As House Democrats continue to mull over whether they'll even participate in the new Select Committee on Benghazi, the Republicans leading the charge on the issue have ramped up their efforts to present the investigation as a pure pursuit of the truth. And that, as it turns out, is precisely where things get complicated for the minority party. Participate, and they risk being warm bodies with little oversight power on a major midterm campaign vehicle for the opposing party. Boycott, and they'll basically give the Republicans what they want: a giant pulpit for the gospel of the Benghazi conspiracy, free of obstructions.
At issue for Democrats is just how much power they'll end up with on the panel. The party is already outnumbered — Republicans awarded themselves seven seats on the panel, while Democrats have just five — and their ability to participate in the investigation is also limited. Currently, Democrats are asking for something they almost certainly will not get from Republican leadership: sign-off privileges on subpoenas related to the investigation. That power would complicate things for the Republicans, as Committee chair Rep. Trey Gowdy alluded to on "Fox News Sunday" this weekend: “Imagine you and I starting an investigation and the first thing you ask for is the ability to deny or veto subpoenas going to witnesses,” he said, adding, “How can it be a pursuit of the truth?”
Both sides of this Benghazi thing like to claim that they have the high ground. [Insert opposing political party here], the argument goes, is politicizing the Benghazi attacks, while [insert friendly political party here] only has the tragic deaths of four Americans in mind. In fact, neither Democrats nor Republicans fit the bill here. If Democrats participate in the panel, for instance, it will not be because of those four dead Americans. It will be because Hillary Clinton is running for President, and she will almost certainly be called to testify. And a Senate report on the attacks was hardly kind to the State Department and the intelligence community in its conclusion that the attacks were opportunistic, but preventable. Although the bipartisan report found no evidence of a White House coverup, it did detail the dysfunctional communications between the CIA and other federal entities, like the FBI and the State Department
Meanwhile, the Republican-led committee is the epitome of GOP politicizing of the attacks: a series of hearings that will last into the fall during a midterm year, that even committee chair Gowdy admits will act more like a "trial," with Gowdy, an experienced showman, at its helm.
Politico dove into the arguments behind the Benghazi "believers" on Monday. The argument driving the continued investigations into the attacks, despite several lengthy investigations by House standing committees (and the bipartisan Senate report summarized above), boils down to two words: "more facts." Basically, the believers, who are comprised of only a small portion of the Republican party, believe there are more facts out there that will link the White House, Hillary Clinton, and other targets to a "cover-up" of the attacks, which happened just months before the 2012 elections. Here's how Rep. Mick Mulvaney put it to Politico, “Do I think generally the White House has a motivation to cover up mistakes in an election year? Yes, I do." He added:
“What’s the worst-case scenario? The worst case is that someone in the White House knew that it was a concerted effort on the behalf of terrorists and they looked around … and said, ‘This is going to look very, very bad for us. We cannot tell them the truth. What can we tell them?’ And someone looked around and said we have riots down in Cairo based on these videos.”
The Republican believers have already told the story they want to tell about what happened before and after the Benghazi attacks. And it looks a lot like Mulvaney's worst-case-scenario above. They just don't have evidence to demonstrate its truth. At worst, as the Washington Post's fact-checker column alluded to, Gowdy, et al. are simply asking questions that have already been answered by the evidence, but this time expecting a different result. One they like better.