Play By Play: The Spectacular Implosion of the Benghazi Committee

By Peter Daou and Tom Watson

In our years as professional political consultants, it's hard to recall an instance of a political party self-destructing so dramatically in the midst of an attack on an opponent.

Democrats and the media have always known that the House Select Committee on Benghazi was a partisan exercise aimed at barring Hillary Clinton from the White House. What no one anticipated is that in the weeks leading up to Hillary's appearance before the committee, the GOP would spontaneously torpedo their own efforts, revealing the sham investigation in all its craven cynicism.

We've chronicled the process in recent weeks and have compiled the details below.

SEPTEMBER 29: As seen in this Clinton campaign ad, Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy  at the time the leading candidate to succeed John Boehner as House speaker  opens the floodgates by admitting the truth: the Benghazi Committee is essentially playing politics with dead Americans:

In light of McCarthy's comments, we wrote about what we dubbed the New McCarthyism:

Since the tragic deaths of four Americans in Benghazi three years ago, Republicans have sought to make political hay first against President Obama and then against the Secretary of State likely to succeed him in the White House. Their multiple and duplicative  and to the taxpayers, costly  investigations have been little more than a transparent effort to taint Hillary, allowing them to open a “second front” in the war to block America's first female president by creating the over-hyped email narrative.

Throughout the entire process, our national political press, beginning (but not ending) with the political desk of the august New York Times, have played the role of willing dupes, sucking down leaks from Trey Gowdy’s committee like so many peanut M&M’s after an attack of the munchies.

The New McCarthyism is a wager that the American people won’t care, that fear will allow the Republicans to continue to exploit their cynical and unethical (non)investigation for political purposes. But it is a bet they will lose. It never pays to play politics on the graves of heroes.

OCTOBER 8: McCarthy stuns the political world by withdrawing from the Speaker's race. According to CNN:

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy dropped out of the race to succeed Speaker John Boehner on Thursday, a shocking move that throws the House into chaos. The move came without warning as House Republicans were in a closed-door meeting to select their nominee for speaker, with McCarthy's wife and kids in the room. Boehner subsequently postponed the vote.

The Benghazi factor is clear:

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy abruptly withdrew Thursday from the Republican race for House speaker, citing a gaffe he made last week suggesting the probe was politically motivated as a factor in abandoning his bid for the third most powerful post in the United States.  

OCTOBER 9: CNN teases a Sunday morning interview with Air Force Reserve Intelligence officer Bradley Podliska, who comes forward to accuse the Benghazi Committee's Republican leadership of obstructing justice and conducting a partisan attack against Hillary Cinton:

Podliska said he decided to come forward because the committee's skewed focus is detracting from the objective of uncovering the truth surrounding the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens: "What happened was wrong," Podliska said.

"I'm scared. I'm nervous. I know that this is, you know, I'm going up against powerful people in Washington. But at the end of the day I need to live with myself," he said. "I told my wife, I will view myself as a coward if I don't do the right thing here."

We shared our thoughts after the story broke:

Remember, Major Podliska is a conservative, yet even he could not stomach a Congressional probe that was aimed singularly at damaging one prominent public servant. "It was a classic case -- and this is me, as a conservative -- of taxpayer waste, fraud and abuse," he told CNN. "It should not have occurred."

Democrats have called for the Benghazi Committee to be disbanded. The latest shocking revelation may well accelerate that process. 

OCTOBER 15: Another Republican congressman, Richard Hanna, steps forward and echoes McCarthy's revelation: 

A Re­pub­lic­an con­gress­man says House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Kev­in Mc­Carthy was telling the truth when he made the in­stantly fam­ous sug­ges­tion that the House Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Benghazi is en­gin­eered to dam­age Hil­lary Clin­ton. “Kev­in Mc­Carthy ba­sic­ally blew him­self up with that com­ment over the Benghazi com­mit­tee. Some­times the biggest sin you can com­mit in D.C. is to tell the truth,” said Richard Hanna, a New York Re­pub­lic­an, in a ra­dio in­ter­view Wed­nes­day.

“This may not be polit­ic­ally cor­rect, but I think that there was a big part of this in­vest­ig­a­tion that was de­signed to go after people and an in­di­vidu­al, Hil­lary Clin­ton, and I think there is also a lot of it that is im­port­ant that we needed to get to the bot­tom of this,” Hanna told the up­state sta­tion WIBX Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

OCTOBER 14-18: In the wake of a reprehensible "Stop Hillary" ad that aired during the October 13th Democratic debate, families of the Benghazi victims speak out against the unauthorized and "cruel" exploitation of their loved ones.

Washington Post:

The Post reached out to family members of all four victims profiled in the commercial. None of them had seen the commercial, but once they were given a link to the ad or heard its description, most were angry.

Reached by phone, Mary Commanday, Stevens’ mother, was furious. “I think it’s a terrible idea and if I could sue him I would,” said Commanday, who lives near Oakland, Calif. She watched the debate but only learned of the commercial after a Post reporter described it to her. “It’s an insult to someone who is dead. I think it’s a wrong use for the reputation of my son.”

The Boston Herald adds:

The mothers of two CIA contractors and former Navy SEALs killed in the 2012 attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi are outraged by a “cruel and callous” political ad that invokes images of their sons to level charges against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Barbara Doherty of Woburn, whose son Glen Doherty died in the attack, told the Herald, “It’s so crude and so unfeeling to do something like this. To see your own son and hear a voice coming up from the grave, it’s tasteless.”

Cheryl Croft Bennett, whose son, Tyrone Woods, died in the attacks, said the ad triggered the type of anger that she had avoided since he was killed.

“I have not been angry because it’s counter-productive. But this ad made me angry,” she said.

OCTOBER 18: A staggering admission from Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, as reported by Armando at Daily Kos, a respected and meticulous legal analyst:

Rep Trey Gowdy admits he altered the  documents that he used to make false claims against Hillary Clinton in a response to a letter from Rep Elijah Cummings. 

Gowdy admits that he decided to make this improper redaction. That he attempts to obfuscate the point by stating the "Executive" branch, AFTER Gowdy appointed himself as arbiter of classification, asked for the redaction on PRIVACY grounds, something Cummings himself stated in his letter, does not obviate the fact that Gowdy purposefully altered a document in order to falsely accuse Clinton of wrongdoing.

OCTOBER 19: Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy continues the macabre clown show by leaking the name of a CIA source. According to Politico:  

House Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy appears to have accidentally released the name of a CIA source in the midst of a back-and-forth with Democrats about how sensitive the information was and whether its presence in former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email account constituted a security breach.

OCTOBER 20: TPM reports that "Benghazi committee Chair Trey Gowdy is now returning $6,000 in political donations that are indirectly tied to a PAC that ran a nasty anti-Hillary Clinton ad showing the grave of the U.S. ambassador killed in the 2012 attacks."

Hillary appears before the House Select Committee on October 22nd and we look forward to her testimony. As we've said, the mask on the committee and its unethical and un-American assault on Hillary appears to have been torn away forever.  


Peter Daou and Tom Watson founded #HillaryMen to provide actionable analysis of the 2016 campaign focusing on the gender barrier in U.S. politics. Peter is a former senior digital adviser to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative. He is a veteran of two presidential campaigns (Kerry '04 and Clinton '08). Tom is an author and Columbia University lecturer who advises companies and non-profits on social activism.