Democrats Accuse Benghazi Committee Of Political Intentions

Oct 21, 2015
Originally published on October 22, 2015 3:49 am
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Vice President Joe Biden's decision may be good news for Hillary Clinton, but she'll need to get through tomorrow first. After months of delays and growing speculation, Clinton will testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi. Four Americans were killed during an attack three years ago on U.S. installations in that Libyan city. The Republicans who summoned Clinton say they want to know more about what she did or didn't do as secretary of state both before and after those attacks. NPR national security correspondent David Welna joins me now to talk about whether there is more to learn about Benghazi. And David, it's been 17 months - right? - since this committee...

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Right.

CORNISH: ...was formed. And as many critical Democrats like to point out, it's less than four months before they start choosing their presidential nominee. So what can you tell us about the timing of this hearing?

WELNA: Well, the timing of the hearing does suggest having been calculated for maximum political impact on Clinton's presidential bid. That's what Democrats say. They point to House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy saying last month that this GOP-run committee had driven down her poll numbers. That unguarded comment that McCarthy later tried to walk back got him into a lot of trouble with fellow Republicans.

And then another House Republican, New York's Richard Hanna, declared that a big part of the Benghazi panel's probe was, quote, "designed to go after people and an individual, Hillary Clinton." But Republicans say this hearing is happening now simply because it's taken this long to gather the information needed to question Clinton.

CORNISH: And Clinton herself - what is she saying?

WELNA: Well, she says she's ready to set the record straight tomorrow. But earlier this month on NBC's "Today" show, Clinton did accuse Republicans of being out to make political hay.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TODAY")

HILLARY CLINTON: There have been seven investigations led mostly by Republicans in the Congress. And they were nonpartisan, and they reached conclusions that - first of all, I and nobody did anything wrong, but there were changes we could make. This committee was set up as, they have admitted, for the purpose of making a partisan political issue out of the deaths of four Americans. I would have never done that.

CORNISH: David, is Clinton right, though, that those seven other congressional investigations all exonerated her?

WELNA: Well, none of them found any criminal wrongdoing. But several did fault the State Department as well as the intelligence agencies for inadequate security at the Benghazi diplomatic compound which was, in fact, mainly a CIA operation center. But it's also true that unlike this probe, none of the other investigations gathered all the email of Chris Stevens, the American ambassador who died in that attack, nor did they see the emails from Clinton's private account that this committee has forced her to produce.

Trey Gowdy, who's the Republican chairman of that panel, told CBS's "Face The Nation" last Sunday that tomorrow's hearing could shed some light on why Clinton did not get Ambassador Stevens request to beef up security in Benghazi.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

TREY GOWDY: I want to know why certain things made it to your inbox, Madam Secretary, but the plaintiff pleadings of our own ambassador that you put in place for more security never bothered to make it to your inbox. I think that's a fair question.

WELNA: And even though this committee was set up with the stated aim of getting all the information about the Benghazi attack, Gowdy acknowledged his committee had not received all the emails from Clinton's private accounts since some are still being vetted at the State Department. But he said the time had come to hold tomorrow's hearing, and he wasn't waiting any longer.

CORNISH: So where does this investigation go after they finally hear from Hillary Clinton tomorrow?

WELNA: Well, it's going to be interesting to see whether that hearing does indeed produce any new revelations. I expect the panel's seven Republicans will all be trying to hold Clinton's feet to their fire while the five Democratic members will all be rushing to her defense. In fact, those Democrats said today they plan to quit the committee after tomorrow's hearing so as not to lend it legitimacy since they say it clearly has none. They're just sticking around to defend Clinton.

CORNISH: That's NPR national security correspondent David Welna. David, thanks.

WELNA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.