October 19, 2015

FORKEN | Partisan Politics in House Committee

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After 17 months and $4.5 million, the House Select Committee on Benghazi still pushes forward. What was originally designed to investigate the deaths of four Americans at the U. S.  consulate in Benghazi has descended into cross-party allegations of partisanship targeting then-Secretary of State and current presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The Committee, headed by Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), has seemingly staggered from one damaging headline to the next over the past two weeks, ultimately undermining the standing of the investigation and lending credibility to accusations of a partisan witch-hunt.

First, Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was forced to withdraw his almost certain bid to replace the resigning John Boehner as Speaker of the House after appearing on Fox News and declaring, “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee, [and] what are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened.”

Next, Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) told a local radio station, “This may not be politically correct, but I think that there was a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after people and an individual, Hillary Clinton. I think that’s the way Washington works. But you’d like to expect more from a committee that’s spent millions of dollars and tons of time.”

Amid those comments from Republican officials, Bradley Podliska, an Air Force Reserve officer and terminated Republican staffer previously on the Select Committee, gave a revealing interview with the New York Times, charging that the investigation had increasingly become focused on Hillary Clinton.

While Republican staff members claim Major Podliska was fired for “improper partiality and animus in his investigative work,” Podliska maintains his termination was a result of his refusal to focus exclusively on Hillary Clinton and as punishment for a two-week absence he took from the Committee to fulfill his military obligations. Major Podliska plans to file a lawsuit against the Committee next month, with his legal team alleging that the Committee unlawfully leaked sensitive information regarding his firing and that “Chairman Gowdy disclosed specific information about private mediation between the Committee and Major Podliska — disclosures that violate the Congressional Accountability Act’s ban on disclosing information regarding settlement negotiations.”

Besides asserting that the Committee was engaging in a partisan investigation, Major Podliska also provides this glimpse into the investigation per the New York Times:

“With the slow progress, members have engaged in social activities like a wine club nicknamed ‘Wine Wednesdays,’ drinking from glasses imprinted with the words ‘Glacial Pace,’ a dig at Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland and the committee’s ranking member, Major Podliska said. Mr. Cummings used the term to question the speed of the committee’s work.

At one point, several Republican staff members formed a gun-buying club and discussed in the committee’s conference room the 9-millimeter Glock handguns they intended to buy and what type of monograms they would inscribe on them, Major Podliska said.”

And just this past weekend, Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), the Committee’s top-ranking Democrat, poked even more holes in the investigation of Chairman Gowdy. Earlier this month, Gowdy released a batch of emails from Clintons’ time as Secretary of State, claiming that Mrs. Clinton had sent classified information by way of a naming a Central Intelligence Agency source.  At the time the Chairman said the name of the CIA source, “is some of the most protected information in our intelligence community … the release of which could jeopardize not only national security but also human lives.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Gowdy the CIA itself did not consider that information to be classified and did not request that any names be redacted in the released emails. Representative Cummings responded to these manipulated releases stating, “The standard operating procedure of this Select Committee has become to put out information publicly that is inaccurate and out of context in order to attack Secretary Clinton for political reasons.”

Currently, the Committee is overseeing the fifth longest investigation by a special committee in Congressional history, lasting longer than probes into Hurricane Katrina, Pearl Harbor and Watergate. By dragging along the investigation at a “glacial pace,” the Committee makes clear their intention to influence presidential politics in an attempt to gratify a decades old partisan vendetta. Does anyone really believe this investigation would be ongoing if anyone but Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State and leading presidential candidate?

The combination of the aforementioned allegations, mostly from Republicans, speaks to a pattern of corruption and misconduct within the House Select Committee on Benghazi. Mrs. Clinton should not be free from criticism regarding the terrorist attack — she was the Secretary of State at the time. However, the Committee cannot be allowed to use the United States House of Representatives as an arm of Republican opposition research with the intent to derail Clinton’s presidential campaign using millions of taxpayer dollars and valuable political resources. Enough is enough.

Jake Forken is a senior in the College of Human Ecology. He may be reached at jrf285@cornell.edu. My Forken Opinion appears alternate Fridays this semester. 

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