Welcome to the 'Stop Hillary Clinton' hearing
No doubt about it. Not Queen Elizabeth, Angela Merkel or Oprah Winfrey. The most powerful woman on the planet is former first lady, former senator from New York, former presidential candidate, former secretary of state, now recluse of Chappaqua, Hillary Clinton. She's so powerful Republicans staged a sham congressional hearing this week to try to stop her from running for president in 2016.
Benghazi, Libya. Nonsense. We learned nothing new. All we heard were three witnesses, egged on by House Republicans, implying that Clinton was somehow responsible for the murder of four Americans or the subsequent cover-up. Or both.
To anybody but the most rabid anti-Clintonite, such charges are absurd: long alleged, and oft debunked. But they're part of a determined Republican campaign to politicize Benghazi -- which began the night of the attacks, before we even learned of the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, when Mitt Romney blamed the Obama administration for "sympathizing with those who waged the attacks." This week's hearing was only the latest installment.
Its political purpose was telegraphed days before the hearing opened. Failed presidential candidate Mike Huckabee declared Benghazi "more serious than Watergate" and predicted it would drive President Obama from the White House. Fired-by-Fox commentator Dick Morris laid blame for Benghazi squarely on Obama and Clinton, thereby "ruining one presidency and possibly preventing another." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who warned "the dam is about to break on Benghazi," stopped whining long enough to admit to the New York Times that criticizing the president is "good politics" for Republicans. And Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa predicted that the hearing would be "damaging" to Clinton.
Actually, Issa had already revealed his hand. Last month, he released a report accusing Clinton of "personally" signing an April 2012 cable turning down a request from then-Libyan Ambassador Gene Cretz for more security. But Issa ended up with egg on his face when the State Department pointed out that every State Department cable from Washington, even routine birthday greetings, carry the secretary's automatic signature. Issa was further embarrassed when the New York Times pointed out that he had "personally" voted with House Republicans to cut half a billion dollars out of embassy security funding in 2011 and 2012.
The Benghazi attack had already been the subject of 10 congressional hearings. The latest provided no new facts, but two new allegations, neither of which holds water. Greg Hicks, deputy to murdered Ambassador Stevens, testified that his request for fighter jets had been turned down by the Pentagon. Had they arrived on the scene, Hicks insisted, they might have prevented the carnage, which is highly unlikely. Earlier, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pointed out that because the nearest jets, stationed at Italy's Aviano Air Base, were not on standby that evening, it would have taken at least nine hours to round up the crews and deploy them. Meanwhile, tankers necessary to refuel the jets were based in England. Mission impossible.
Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism, complained that his request for elite U.S. Special Forces was also turned down by the Pentagon. But, again, Panetta previously testified they could not reach the scene until the following morning and that officers had serious "Black Hawk down" concerns about sending more Americans into a situation about which they still knew very little. Note that both decisions were made by Leon Panetta, yet all the blame's being dumped on Hillary Clinton. But, of course, nobody expects Panetta to run for president in 2016.
Not surprisingly, House Republicans completely ignore the Benghazi investigation conducted immediately after the attacks by the Accountability Review Board. Headed by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Joint Chiefs Chair Michael Mullen, the ARB slammed the State Department for not doing a better job of protecting our embassies and made 29 recommendations to improve security. It also placed blame for the killings where it belongs: on the terrorists, not Hillary Clinton.
Rather than focus on what improvements need to be made, however, Chairman Issa promises even more hearings on Benghazi. But he'll have to wait at least two weeks. Eric Cantor's already scheduled a vote in the House next week to repeal Obamacare -- for the 34th time! Do you see a pattern here?
(Bill Press is host of a nationally-syndicated radio show, the host of "Full Court Press" on Current TV and the author of a new book, "The Obama Hate Machine," which is available in bookstores now. You can hear "The Bill Press Show" at his website: billpressshow.com. His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.)