Skip to main content

Benghazi hearing's real target: Clinton in 2016

By David Rothkopf, Special to CNN
May 10, 2013 -- Updated 0945 GMT (1745 HKT)
Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission in Libya, arrives for a House committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, May 8. State Department employees testified about the terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012. U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/12/africa/gallery/libya-us-consulate-attack/index.html'>View photos of the attack.</a> Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission in Libya, arrives for a House committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, May 8. State Department employees testified about the terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012. U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed. View photos of the attack.
HIDE CAPTION
Benghazi attack hearing
Benghazi attack hearing
Benghazi attack hearing
Benghazi attack hearing
Benghazi attack hearing
Benghazi attack hearing
Benghazi attack hearing
Benghazi attack hearing
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Rothkopf: Benghazi hearing upstaged by Jodi Arias verdict, Cleveland story
  • He says Benghazi worth investigating, but committee's aim was to undermine Clinton
  • He says little new revealed in hearing and no evidence of cover-up shown
  • Rothkopf: Hearings an attempt to turn innuendo into blips on opinion polls for 2016 race

Editor's note: David Rothkopf writes regularly for CNN.com. He is CEO and editor-at-large of the FP Group, publishers of Foreign Policy magazine, and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Follow him on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Rep. Darrell Issa must be ruing his bad luck. The hearing he carefully orchestrated to pick at the scab of Benghazi was stepped on by the verdict in the Jodi Arias murder trial and by the story of three women held captive and brutalized for a decade in Cleveland. He was out-sensationalized and out-tawdried this week despite his own best efforts and those of his committee colleagues and staff members.

That is not to say that the tragic events that unfolded last year in Benghazi are not worthy of serious investigation. They just didn't get them from Issa's committee. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her passionate testimony in December, we need to know what went wrong to prevent future tragedies. That's why she began an investigation immediately after the attacks. But Issa and his co-inquisitors were more interested in the arithmetic of 2016 presidential politics than with the events of last September 11 in Libya.

David Rothkopf
David Rothkopf

The testimony of Gregory Hicks, the former Libya deputy chief of mission, was striking and at times moving, and offered useful additional perspectives. He said he had suffered negative repercussions because he challenged the State Department line on what happened in Benghazi. But even while some of what he said was new and resonant, the Republicans on the committee weren't listening. They focused less on learning what could have been done differently than on trying to establish that Clinton and her closest associates had tried to cover up the tragedy.

John King: Benghazi investigation both legitimate and partisan

On this point, very little was revealed that was either material or new. Hicks said a Clinton aide had been angry at him over how he conducted himself with investigators after the incident. He disputed the way the attack and its origins were depicted by senior officials on television. He deplored the losses that took place. But to say that any of this points at a cover-up "has all the elements of Pulitzer Prize-class fiction attached to it," as former Ambassador Thomas Pickering, co-chairman of the committee that first investigated the attacks suggested.

Benghazi officer: Man ran in, yelling
Hicks on Libya: Saddest call of my life
State Department missed Benghazi danger
Paul on Libya: There may be more to this

That Clinton's team might want to have a clear sense of how what was clearly a politically motivated congressional investigation was being conducted seems only logical and responsible. That the origins of the attack were framed as related to an inflammatory amateur video that appeared on the Internet has long ago been established as wrong and misguided.

That the losses were terrible and that U.S. diplomatic outposts in dangerous places need more security is absolutely true, and if they really cared about such things, Issa and his team would devote more of their attention to reaching consensus on how to find the funding needed to ensure that security is available

Nothing spoken of in the hearing suggested a cover-up by a Cabinet secretary, who instantly took personal responsibility for the attacks and swiftly appointed an independent commission led by two of the most distinguished, nonpartisan career civil servants in recent American history to investigate them. To say otherwise is more than a reach. It's an effort by the Republican Party to damage the person most likely to be the next Democratic presidential candidate.

In the calculus of Washington today, Clinton is a bigger and more valuable target even than her former boss, the president. Having said that, it is almost certainly the case that the reason the initial focus in these hearings was not on the White House or elsewhere in the executive branch was that there was no evidence of a cover-up or of a politically spinning of the post-Benghazi message there either. Indeed, even Republican Sen. Bob Corker said that having reviewed all the evidence he felt there was nothing new to be revealed by these latest hearings.

No, this is just the latest example of the fine Washington art of promoting an enduring scandal out of not very much, demonstrating the ability of microphones in congressional hearings to turn scattered inconclusive facts and emotion into innuendo and blips in opinion polls. That the process also debases and, perversely, distracts from the very serious issues associated with protecting our diplomats and our interests overseas is hardly important, it seems, to the political attack dogs whose appetites are so insatiable that any nutrition-free scrap of half-truth looks like a meal.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Rothkopf.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT