When in late November the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee released a report finding that there was no direct wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, it seemed like the case might finally be closed. After all, this was a panel controlled by a Republicans.
But that’s not quite what happened.
Some of the loudest torch-and-pitchfork wielding Benghazi investigation enthusiasts weren’t satisfied. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said on CNN he thought the report “is full of crap” and that the House Intelligence Committee had done a “lousy job of policing their own.”
“I’m saying that anybody who has followed Benghazi at all knows that the CIA deputy director did not come forward to tell Congress what role he played in changing the talking points,” Graham said. “And the only way we knew he was involved is when he told a representative at the White House, I’m going to do a hard review of this, a hard rewrite.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) agreed, telling the Salt Lake Tribune that Graham “is probably right.”
And then on Monday, an op-ed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) ran at Breitbart which skeptically said “a Congressional Committee chaired by Rep. Mike Rogers is telling us no one is responsible because there was no intelligence failure to begin with.” Paul’s argument was that the House Intelligence Committee’s report omitted key details about Benghazi thanks to the Obama administration.
“The Obama Administration has tried to paint members of Congress who ask these questions as somehow being extreme or crazy — and perhaps the House Intelligence Committee will now follow suit.”
Fox News also published a piece arguing that the “widely-cited” House Intelligence report “cited by the mainstream media” lacked key details about Benghazi.
These two arguments are at the core post-House Intelligence Committee report findings skepticism. To skeptics, the findings by the Republican-controlled Intelligence Committee clearly lacked key details if the conclusion was that there was no wrongdoing and, the thinking goes, that’s probably thanks to the Obama administration.
“It’ s a conspiracy between House Republicans and the White House,” American Enterprise Institute congressional scholar Norm Ornstein said sarcastically to TPM.
There’s reason for these Republicans to be skeptical, Ornstein said.
“Fox News, Talk Radio, plus all of the efforts by some of the members inside like Lindsey Graham to suggest something really dark here,” Ornstein said, adding “you have a whole lot of people predisposed —and that’s a mild term to use— to believe that the administration would do horrible things and then conspire to cover them up. So any thing that provides evidence to the contrary, after all of that buildup and hype, is going to be rejected by people who don’t want to believe it.”
In the case of Paul, there’s also the fact that by criticizing the handling of Benghazi, he can easily segue to criticizing Hillary Clinton through an event that happened while she was secretary of State (which he happily did in his Breitbart piece).
“If you are a presidential candidate and you’ve got partisan base out there that believes that Obama’s a Kenyan socialist that’s trying to undermine American and work with our enemies, then you’re going to gain much by saying ‘Benghazi really was worth nothing’ but you will by saying it all reinforces your worst fears about the president and his administration,” Ornstein said.
The fact that a Republican-controlled committee released this report is beside the point for skeptics, Harvard University political scientist Theda Skocpol said.
“Republicans know that most Americans know nothing about the details of government or who produced this report. They are just continuing a sound bite beat implying something dirty from Obama and Clinton about Benghazi,” Skocpol told TPM. “The real problem for them will come from media reporters who do know this was a GOP report and may not want to cover more hearings.”
There’s also one other important fact to keep in mind. Ornstein noted that other panels could release a report either confirming the House Intelligence Committee’s or contradicting it which would surely add flame to the conspiracy fire. Ornstein noted there’s the House Select Committee on Benghazi and a few of the Republican-controlled committees in the 114th Congress will likely look into Benghazi as well.
“There’s very little doubt in my mind that you’re going to see Benghazi investigations probably by John McCain and the Senate Armed Services committee and you’re going to see some pressure by Ron Johnson on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations,” Ornstein said.