UPDATED: Trump, McCain and the Hideously Politicized Benghazi Committee

By Peter Daou and Tom Watson

UPDATE (9/15/15): This post was written shortly after Donald Trump smeared John McCain's Vietnam service. Today, one of the most prominent conservative thought leaders provided concrete evidence of how Republicans are using Benghazi for political purposes.

Playing politics with the service and sacrifice of Americans. It is beyond deplorable. We know. Peter was a staffer on John Kerry's presidential campaign when Kerry’s service was being ripped apart by Republicans with the help of the media.

Fast forward to Donald Trump questioning John McCain’s heroism and the justified outrage among Republicans.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump slammed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a decorated Vietnam War veteran, by saying McCain was not a war hero because he was captured by the North Vietnamese. Republican leaders and other candidates have been careful in how they respond to his immigration remarks, but his condemnation of McCain opened the floodgates, drawing swift and sharp criticism from other Republicans.

These are the same Republicans who viciously smeared John Kerry, a decorated veteran. Sheer, unadulterated hypocrisy.

Which brings us to another instance of supreme GOP hypocrisy: Benghazi. If ever there was an example of playing politics on the backs of dead Americans, of using their sacrifice to score cheap political points, Benghazi is it.

Chairman Trey Gowdy’s cynical control of information, his committee’s obvious leaks, and the Republican leadership’s squalid political trading on the lives of four brave Americans have been swept into broad sunshine, fully discrediting a flawed investigative process into the tragic Benghazi incident that has gone off the rails.

As reported by The Hill’s Martin Matishak, Democrats on the panel led by the redoubtable Rep. Elijah Cummings have taken the gloves off with their committee chairman:

“At the beginning of this year, Select Committee Republicans provided Democrats with detailed information about their plans to hold 11 hearings between January and October on a wide range of topics relating to the Benghazi attacks,” the panel’s five Democrats wrote Wednesday in a letter to chairman Trey Gowdy.

“Since then, however, Republicans have completely abandoned this plan — holding no hearings at all since January and instead focusing on former Secretary Hillary Clinton.”

The GOP is not interested in what happened in 2012. The attacks have been fully investigated and reported on to the public, starting with the State Department’s own in-depth review. No, it is simply an attack mechanism, a hijacking of an important Congressional function that is reminiscent, frankly, of the McCarthy Era.

“It appears that much of the Select Committee’s work has been shelved while Republicans pursue every possible avenue of political attack against Secretary Clinton,” wrote Rep. Cummings and his colleagues. They said the actions of the GOP majority on the select committee, “which lack any legitimate basis — serve only to delay its work further into the election season and subject it to increasingly widespread criticism for its highly partisan actions.”

It’s clear, said Rep. Cummings, that the committee is selectively leaking testimony to the media.

“Documents released recently by the Benghazi Select Committee demonstrate that a Member of the Committee, a staffer on the Committee, or someone who has been given access to the Committee’s documents inaccurately described to the press email exchanges obtained by the Committee in a way that appeared to further a political attack against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,” he said.

The leaks, said the Congressman, are specifically designed to hurt Secretary Clinton politically. “Unfortunately, this is only the latest in a reckless pattern of selective Republican leaks and mischaracterizations of evidence relating to the Benghazi attacks,” he said.

The loss of four Americans at Benghazi was a national tragedy and reflects the danger our diplomats face in dangerous places around the world. As #HillaryMen, we applaud Hillary’s honesty in responding forthrightly to investigations surrounding the attacks. More than a year ago, Hillary was asked about her biggest regret in four years as Secretary of State. She did not hesitate:

“It would certainly be the attack on our facility in Benghazi, and the loss of two State Department personnel and two CIA contractors from the terrorist attack and the terrible consequences of that.”

We also applaud the efforts of Congressman Cummings in holding the GOP leadership responsible for trying to score cheap political points over the graves of four Americans who died serving their country.

No one disputes that tragic mistakes were made at Benghazi. Certainly not Hillary Clinton, and certainly not President Obama. Yet the Republican-led select committee has both extended and distorted its Congressional mandate to shift from attacking the President to smearing his possible successor. The goals of Chairman Gowdy and Speaker Boehner do not comport with the goals of oversight and reform.

In truth, we do not expect this to change. Although Benghazi has been fully investigated, the right-wing smear machine of the Republican Party doesn’t need truth or documentation to attack Hillary. It just needs members of Congress to ignore their oaths.

One would hope that the swift condemnation of Donald Trump for attacking John McCain’s service would set an example for Republicans and give them pause over the deeply cynical use of those who sacrificed their lives in Libya. But knowing the GOP penchant for hypocrisy, we realize, sadly, that it is a vain hope.

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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.