Benghazi Hearing: A Prelude to Clinton 2016?

Congress’s investigation into the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans seems certain to spill into the 2016 presidential race, with Republicans moving to question Hillary Clinton at a politically opportune moment when her likely presidential campaign is up and running.

Mrs. Clinton, the former secretary of state, has agreed to testify before a House select committee that is examining the September 2012 attacks at a U.S. diplomatic mission, lawmakers say. She took questions from Congress about Benghazi in January 2013, but Republicans wouldn’t mind seeing her back on the hot seat.

The key question: When will she appear?


Two scenarios present themselves. The first is advantageous to Republican opponents of Mrs. Clinton; the other, not so much.


A Clinton appearance that comes in the thick of the presidential race could prove perilous, drawing more public scrutiny and leaving her less time to recover from any gaffes.


That’s the anti-Clinton time frame.


An early appearance by Mrs. Clinton might help defuse Benghazi as a campaign issue before she enters the race and the spotlight on her intensifies. She could try to put Benghazi behind her, laying out her role in responding to the attacks and once again accepting responsibility and expressing regret over the loss of life. Should she stumble, she’d have ample time before the November 2016 election to limit the fallout.

We’ll call that the pro-Clinton timetable.


Republicans aren’t in any particular hurry to hear from her now, 649 days before election day. They seem to prefer option #1.


For their part, Democrats wouldn’t mind getting her testimony as soon as possible. They like option #2.


Whenever she appears, Mrs. Clinton will face tough questions from Republican lawmakers looking to make the point that Benghazi is an indelible stain on her record at State. But Mrs. Clinton has a chance to use the moment to her advantage. She can show herself to be a leader unafraid of scrutiny and eager to make right any security lapses that made the facility vulnerable to attack.


The top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, sent a letter to committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.) on Thursday saying that he had contacted Mrs. Clinton last year and learned she was willing to testify as early as last month.


Mrs. Clinton “responded without hesitation that she was willing and able to testify in a public hearing – as early as December 2014 – to answer any remaining questions,” Mr. Cummings wrote.


(As an aside, it wasn’t always clear that Mrs. Clinton was prepared to testify before Congress one more time. In her book “Hard Choices,” published last year, she suggested she was done cooperating with congressional inquiries into Benghazi. “Those who insist on politicizing the tragedy will have to do so without me,” she wrote).


Republicans say they’re not ready to hear from her just yet. Mr. Gowdy, in a reply to Mr. Cummings on Thursday, said the committee needs more emails, diplomatic cables and other documents from the State Department “to facilitate the most constructive conversation.”


In an interview with Fox News this week, Mr. Gowdy said: “You would have me on the show citing me for legal malpractice if I examined the witness before I had the documents.”


Investigative committees tend to work best when they operate in bipartisan fashion. This one is having trouble meeting that standard. As of now, the Benghazi committee has split along partisan lines over the timing of Mrs. Clinton’s testimony.


“I’m not sure in addition to what Secretary Clinton already testified to on the subject she can really add,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), a member of the panel. “But there’s obviously great political value for the Republicans in bringing her back before the committee. And they can maximize that benefit by delaying it as long as possible in the presidential cycle.”

Source: Wall Street Journal