The party that swept into power on promises of transparency and accountability scrambled Wednesday to circle wagons in an extravagant attempt to protect administration officials, the White House and the woman many Democrats hope will be their next nominee for president.
Congressional Democrats strenuously tried covering up the inquiry into the botched handling and dishonest aftermath of the terrorist attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi that left our ambassador to Libya and three other Americans dead.
It was a performance the likes of which have not been seen in this town since the darkest days of the Iraq War when Republicans on Capitol Hill scraped and scrounged for any sort of defense that could be made of the Bush administration and the mountains of bad news that kept emerging from Iraq.
A Democratic Congress, we were promised back then, would be different. Democrats vowed to be a check on the White House and the administration no matter who was president. Turns out, that was just something that sounded good in the heat of an election campaign.
Witnesses and documents presented at Wednesday’s hearing revealed lax security before the murderous attack. The rescue and response to the attack was somewhere between slow and nonexistent. And even though it was immediately evident to everyone on the ground that what had happened was a calculated terrorist attack, the White House and administration officials repeatedly and publicly claimed that it was a spontaneous protest of an anti-Islamic video posted on YouTube.
(Lost in all the incessant squabbling is the chilling fact that before the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, there had been an isolated protest of the video at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. But by blaming the deadly Benghazi attack on the video, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and others thrust the video into such prominence that it then sparked massive riots among Muslims all around the world, leading to countless more dead.)
As for Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Wednesday’s hearing looked like a wallpaper and whitewashing convention.
After months and months of trying to silence the State Department officials giving testimony, Democrats were suddenly shocked — shocked! — that the whistleblowers might feel a wee bit vulnerable for contradicting some of the most powerful political hands in the country.
“I am glad the whistleblowers are here, and I will do every single thing in my power to protect the whistleblowers,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat, gave a rousing defense of Mrs. Clinton, implying that it was unpatriotic to raise questions about her actions and statements in the wake of what we now know was a terrorist attack.
“I find it truly disturbing and very unfortunate that when Americans come under attack, the first thing some did in this country was attack Americans,” she said. “Attack the military; attack the president; attack the State Department; attack the former senator from the great state of New York, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.”
Mrs. Maloney’s primary focus of concern about the attack that killed four people was to argue that Mrs. Clinton had not, in fact, signed a cable from Washington denying additional security in Libya. No, Mrs. Maloney said, Mrs. Clinton’s name was typed at the bottom of the cable, not signed.
It was a real Perry Mason moment.
Mrs. Maloney was so obsessed with this factoid that she devoted her entire interrogation of the witnesses to that one single nonpoint. It was worse than waterboarding.
And then there was Rep. William Lacy Clay, Missouri Democrat, who was so dedicated to getting to the bottom of things that he spent his entire inquiry blaming the attack on budget cuts and trying to score some political points about sequestration and those stingy Republicans.
As President Obama recently said about preventing terrorist attacks, “This is hard stuff.” And as White House spokesman Jay Carney said the other day, “Benghazi happened a long time ago.”
Perhaps the sentiment that most perfectly sums up Democrats’ approach to getting to the bottom of everything came from Mr. Cummings himself.
“Death is a part of life,” he said. So cheer the heck up and quit asking so many hard questions.
• Charles Hurt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @charleshurt.