There is a wave of deep concern for the Republicans’ political position overtaking the press. As the Benghazi Select Committee’s interview of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began to litigate her relationship with former Clinton fixer Sidney Blumenthal, a few reporters helpfully advised the GOP’s members to back off.
“Gowdy going down Sid rabbit hole, starting to sound like he’s chasing conspiracy theories,” The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza opined. “Imagine if 9/11 Commission had operated like this.”
“Genuinely surprised Gowdy spent all his time asking bout Blumenthal,” The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein remarked. “Looks like a tactical mistake too: invited the blowup at the end.”
The “blowup” to which Stein referred related to the committee’s ranking member, Representative Elijah Cummings, who raised his voice with theatrical indignation over the line of questioning that focused on Blumenthal. Cummings demanded that the transcripts from the former Clinton’s advisor’s private interview with the committee be released to the public. How compelling Cummings to engage in this dramatic display was a mistake by the committee’s chairman, Representative Trey Gowdy, remains elusive. The committee’s ranking Democrat was showing his hand; Gowdy was right over the target.
While that row is almost certain to lead television news coverage of this hearing – dramatic moments, however inconsequential, always do – what was discovered before that passionate interchange is far more revelatory regarding Clinton’s conduct as secretary of state.
Blumenthal was a Clinton confidante long before Hillary Clinton went to work at Foggy Bottom. She appealed to the Obama administration to allow Blumenthal to join her staff as a speechwriter, but the request was declined. Blumenthal had developed a reputation as a partisan flamethrower – a fixer, of sorts, who was not above getting his hands dirty in order to protect the Clintons. Nevertheless, as Hillary Clinton’s secretive emails revealed, Blumenthal continued to work closely with Hillary Clinton, sent her numerous communications related to the sensitive ongoing workings of the American government, and was compensated for his performance.
How many communications would that be? In the case of Libya, a conflict zone the committee established Clinton lost interest in after the Gaddafi government was overthrown, a lot. In an open letter to his Democratic counterpart on the committee, Gowdy revealed that approximately half of all the email messages Clinton received relating to Libya were sent from Blumenthal. Gowdy called him “Secretary Clinton’s primary advisor” on that North African trouble spot.
Worse, one of those email communications from Clinton that was forwarded to Gowdy contained classified information – information that was apparently sensitive enough so that it was redacted when the committee received it. That email contained the name of a CIA operator, and its transmission on an unsecure cable could literally have put that person’s life in danger. “She is exposing the name of a guy who has a clandestine relationship with the CIA on her private, unprotected server,” former CIA Mideast officer John Maguire, who noted that the revelation should trigger the creation of a “crimes report” in the Department of Justice.
Moreover, as it was alleged in this hearing and confirmed by Hillary Clinton, there were emails she received from Blumenthal related to intelligence matters that she forwarded to the president’s team for review, but they were stripped of the identifiers that would let the White House know that the information was coming from Blumenthal. Clinton contended that she did this merely in order to ensure that the intelligence was evaluated on its merits and not its source, but the more likely explanation is that it would have enraged the White House, which had blocked Blumenthal from serving on Clinton’s staff. In a sentence, Hillary Clinton misled the President of the United States on a matter related to the conduct of American foreign affairs and national security.
Even for those who don’t concern themselves with good governance, that should be at least modestly troubling. Political reporters who are almost exclusively concerned with point-scoring should perhaps concede that Blumenthal represents a problem for Clinton.
“You got that from Sidney Blumenthal and you say Mr. Blumenthal was a friend of yours and he had your personal email address,” Georgia Representative Lynn Westmoreland asked. “You say Chris Stevens was a friend of yours…Did he have your personal email?”
Clinton paused for an extended period. “I — I do not believe that he had my personal mail.”
Political reporters who are so deeply concerned with whether the Benghazi committee’s Republicans are shooting themselves in the foot should be wary of throwing too many brushback pitches. At the rate this is going, they’ll wear their arms out.