Hillary Clinton won’t be the only one in the hot seat on Thursday.
The former Secretary of State will appear before the House Select Committee on Benghazi for the first—and likely the last—time to answer questions about the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Libya that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Meanwhile, the committee chair, South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, will face questions from Democrats about why the committee has spent nearly $5 million but this is the first hearing it has held. Gowdy has been accused of politicizing the process after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy basically admitted as much in a Sept. 29 Fox News interview.
“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” McCarthy told Sean Hannity. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s un-trustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought and made that happen.”
In recent weeks, the hearing has become almost as much of a potential liability for Gowdy as it is Clinton. A front-page New York Times story asked why none of the other 11 planned hearings have happened and why Gowdy only personally attended 10 of the 53 interviews—only the ones relating to Clinton’s staff. New York Republican Rep. Richard Hanna said the committee was rigged to go after Clinton, a view echoed by a former committee staffer last week who claimed he was fired for questioning the Republicans’ relentless focus on the Democratic presidential frontrunner.
Thursday’s anticipated eight-hour circus (Gowdy wants four rounds of questioning at an expected 120 minutes apiece) will be the closest thing America will get to a Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton debate. In this scenario, House Republican members led by Gowdy will play the role of Trump—after all Gowdy was the Freedom Caucus’ first choice to replace outgoing House Speaker John Boehner.
Gowdy in recent days intimated that he has asked his members to rein themselves in and address only the topic at hand, Benghazi. Word is he’ll focus less on the response to the attack than what Clinton might have known about Stevens’ repeated requests for more security. Gowdy claims to have new e-mails that speak to this issue. Clinton has repeatedly denied being aware of the requests, which would have been routed through State’s Bureau of Overseas Operations, not the Secretary’s office. And in the past, Clinton has blamed Republican budget cuts for the chronic underfunding of embassy security.
Republicans will surely also ask Clinton about her use of a private e-mail server and the Administration’s initial dismissal of the 2012 attack as part of anti-American protests rather than a terrorist attack. But, if past is prologue, the hearing will likely devolve into an exercise of gotcha. The last time Clinton testified at a Benghazi hearing it lasted six hours; less than half was spent on Benghazi, with members quickly growing bored of the topic and turning to other political hot button issues.
In that hearing, Democrats used their time to largely fawn over not-yet-presidential candidate Clinton, asking her about her impending grand-motherhood and flattering her tenure at Secretary of State. This time around, Democrats, led by Maryland’s Elijah Cummings, have another mandate: embarrass Gowdy and reveal the committee for the sham they say it is.
The ultimate goal for both sides will be to make political hay, and put a dent in either Clinton’s or Gowdy’s sheen—or both. Yes, Americans died in Benghazi. But the more than $20 million spent—State has spent more than $14 million responding to Benghazi requests and Gowdy’s committee along has spent $4.7 million, never mind the seven other congressional investigations—in investigating that fact has less to do with their deaths than the political reality that gotcha points make for great television and we’re in the midst of a presidential campaign.