After Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate, Sandy “the burglar” Berger stealing documents from the National Archives and Bill’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, political reporters got a bit lazy because they had to sit back and wait for the next scandal to break. The cascading Clintons always served one up.
Some reporters I know openly yearn for a return to the Clinton days. They miss remarks like what then-Sen. Fritz Hollings of South Carolina said when Bill’s poll numbers were falling. There was no reason to worry, Mr. Hollings said, because, “If they reach 60 percent, then he can start dating again.” The joke illustrated the big difference between the Clintons: Bill’s scandals were for the tabloids, and Hillary’s for the business page or the police blotter. His were perverse fun, hers not so much.
Now that the former senator and secretary of state is about to declare her run for the presidency, happy days for political reporters may be here again.
Hillary Clinton’s email scandal is perfectly consistent with how the Clintons have always done business: control, conceal, mislead, deny, cover up and admit only what you must. The only possible purpose for creating her private email system was to prevent federal record keepers from archiving her emails and all those reporters and historians from getting their hands on what she wrote and did at critical times.
Rep. Trey Gowdy’s House select committee investigating the Benghazi attacks has, so far, frustrated its own mission by failing to pursue the elements of the attacks that serious investigators would. Mr. Gowdy has now invited Hillary to testify under oath, but only in a private session, without the media or the public present. That is a strategy guaranteed to fail. Only with the proper foundation of evidence and only under the spotlights can the committee obtain any information from Mrs. Clinton that might lift the lid under which she and President Obama have covered their actions on Benghazi.
There’s a much better strategy that would lay that foundational evidence before the public and get to at least some of the truth about the apparent cover-up of the Clinton-Obama actions in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack.
The first step would consist of two days of public hearings during which witnesses all testify under oath. The first witness should be Raymond Maxwell, a former State Department deputy assistant secretary for Near East affairs.
According to a September 2014 article by investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, a State Department document selection party was held on a Sunday by two of Hillary Clinton’s closest staffers, Cheryl Mills, Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff who had been a White House counsel defending Bill Clinton’s impeachment, and Jake Sullivan, Mrs. Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, who had worked on Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
The first day’s hearings would open with a morning of testimony by Mr. Maxwell, getting him to specify who was present, what they were doing and what he was told (and by whom) when he came upon that Sunday document “party” at the State Department. According to Ms. Attkisson’s report, the staffers who were busy separating documents had orders to separate anything that would embarrass the “Seventh Floor” — i.e., Hillary’s office — from materials that would be made available to the supposedly independent Accountability Review Board investigating Benghazi, or to Congress.
After that, the afternoon session could obtain the testimony of Ms. Mills and Mr. Sullivan, under subpoena and under oath, to get their statements on the facts of the Attkisson report and Mr. Maxwell’s testimony. Anyone who has done a cross-examination knows how to question hostile witnesses, as they surely will be. The questions would include: What orders did the document separators receive, and from whom? What did the orders say about specific categories of documents? What did you tell the staffers they were required to look for? What documents were separated out, and where are they now? And a lot more. If it takes going into or through the night, the session should continue until that line of inquiry is exhausted.
The second day would be Hillary’s turn to testify. She should also be subpoenaed and required to testify under oath. The morning session should get her testimony on all of the revelations of the previous day from Mr. Maxwell, Ms. Mills and Mr. Sullivan and on all of the other aspects of the Benghazi attack in the afternoon.
The afternoon session will be the key. Again, Mr. Gowdy’s Republicans must be prepared to cross-examine the most hostile witness they’ll ever question. Ms. Mills and Mr. Sullivan can be expected to evade and possibly lie. Hillary can be counted on to surpass the others’ skills doing the same.
Questions must include the background to the attack. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on Benghazi said there were about 30 terrorist groups operating in the city at the time of the attack. Why was Ambassador Christopher Stevens allowed to stay there? What was the CIA doing in Benghazi? Most important, what conversations or correspondence (ah, those emails again) flowed between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama — and among the other top people in the Obama administration — as the attacks unfolded?
Mr. Gowdy’s Republicans should be prepared for Mrs. Clinton to assert executive privilege on any communications between her and the president. If she does that, they will have to ask questions specific enough to tie her down on the details and scope of the claim of privilege.
There will be few, if any, admissions by Mrs. Clinton because she and her husband are masters of the art of slipperiness. Still, the hearings will be well worth the exercise. They will, at least, show the public how wide and deep the cover-up really is.
• Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research and the author of five books including “In the Words of Our Enemies.”