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GOP using Benghazi to smear

By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
May 16, 2013 -- Updated 1050 GMT (1850 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.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile: Benghazi hearings aimed at hurting Clinton prospects for 2016
  • She says hearings cooked up by Boehner. GOP says not aimed at Clinton, but statements belie this
  • She says Dems excluded from much of probe, including calling witnesses who could shed light
  • Brazile: Facts, truth matter, but hearings aimed at fundraising for 2016 race against Clinton

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pot in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- For some Republicans, 2016 is 1992: Hating Hillary Clinton is chic again. Only more so, since the former secretary of state is also the partner of and potential successor to the last two Democratic presidents—Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Some of us believe, with good reasons, that the Republicans are "mad-dogging" Hillary Clinton with the Benghazi hearing to damage not only her presidential prospects, but also to damage President Obama's credibility.

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

Polls show Obama is trusted more than his Washington opponents, especially on the economy. So, to defeat his economic agenda and substitute their own, which has already lost on logic, they've decided to undermine Obama's credibility and authority.

The Benghazi hearing, which House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, orchestrated and planned for months, is a classic "killing two birds with one stone" scenario for Republicans. Or maybe three: They see an opportunity to smear Obama, sabotage Clinton and fundraise like giddy televangelists.

Benghazi hearing chairman Darrell Issa, R-California, said Clinton is not a target of his committee. That doesn't seem to jibe with statements by GOP Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, among others. And further contradicting Issa's protestation, the National Republican Congressional Committee was boasting that its Clinton/Benghazi fundraising page was the most successful in its history.

CIA role in Benghazi was underreported
White House releases Benghazi e-mails
An American eyewitness in Benghazi

Benghazi is a rather unseemly subject to turn into a political weapon. It's one thing to try to drag the former secretary of state through the mud. But the Republicans are trying to drag her through blood -- blood that's tainted with partisan politics. The Republicans cut the funding for embassy security by $128 million in 2011 and $331 million in 2012. Clinton warned that doing so would be "detrimental to national security." Republicans scoffed then, scream now.

Obama called the Benghazi hearing a circus. He's right. It's not a transparent, due process hearing. Democrats have complained they were excluded from much of the investigations, weren't allowed to call witnesses or to look at documents.

As Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland and ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said Wednesday after the White House's release of approximately 100 pages of e-mails relating to the attacks in Benghazi: "These documents undercut the reckless accusations by Republicans that the White House scrubbed the Benghazi talking points for political reasons and in fact show just the opposite—that the primary goal was to protect the FBI's ongoing criminal investigation and our nation's intelligence operations."

Chaffetz: Obama has explaining to do on Benghazi

A transparent, due-process hearing would call the witnesses who would testify that the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli mistakenly believed Katibat Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi had claimed credit for the attack. The group didn't make the claim and later denied any role. But that was an on-the-ground, in-the-moment embassy mistake. (While no friend of the United States, the Benghazi al-Sharia organization has not, so far, been implicated in terrorist activity.)

It came from mistaken identity: There were two distinct and unrelated Ansar al-Sharia militant groups in Libya. Even Fox News interviewed an expert, J. Peter Pham of the Atlantic Council, who said these groups have no formal affiliation with each other. They are grass-roots up organizations, whereas al Qaeda organizes from the top down.

It is suspected that the Ansar al-Sharia in Derna was involved in the attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans. Its leader is a former prisoner at Guantanamo who was released under the Bush administration and deported to Libya for jail. Gadhafi later released him.

In a transparent hearing we would learn that the Republicans' chief witness, Deputy Chief of Mission Gregory Hicks, was likely, even today, in error about which Ansar al-Sharia was involved. It is the difference between a local militant militia group and professional terrorists.

Hicks clearly was referring to the Benghazi al Sharia when he testified about his concern that Ambassador Chris Stevens was taken to the hospital that the Benghazi group then guarded. But, this week the same hospital was bombed; the rival al-Shaira group in Derna, with al Qaeda links, is a reasonable suspect.

Getting the facts right matters. Getting the truth matters. Posturing for propaganda points not only misleads us, it endangers us. For whatever the Benghazi hearings are about, they're not about learning the lessons from this tragedy and improving securities at American embassies and other facilities overseas.

They are, in fact, a partisan campaign fundraiser for the Republican Party, and not a fact-finding inquiry to help the State Department and military correct their mistakes.

Karl Rove's American Crossroads super PAC has already taken on Hillary Clinton, spending megabucks on a 2016 attack ad that savages her judgments. Some Republicans, to their credit, can't stomach any more from their fellow Republicans.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Republican, appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation" and said he would have handled Benghazi just as Obama handled it. He added a flat, "No" that he did not think Hillary Clinton would be involved in any kind of a cover-up.

Bill Kristol, conservative editor and commentator, told Fox News Sunday, "I wish the Republicans would just be quiet for a while and that the partisan Republican groups that are fundraising off this would be quiet ... for a while ... and let's find out what really happened."

Amen.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

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