What Purpose The Benghazi Emails Really Serve

For today’s purposes, the Benghazi story, and the extent to which it constitutes a scandal, boil down to the subjective question of how unseemly it is for a cabinet department to defensively edit public communications in the wake of a national tragedy. Maybe you can stretch that out to implicate President Obama for wanting to downplay the implications of that tragedy ahead of the election.

But to spin that into a fatal liability for either Obama or Hillary Clinton requires pretending that the territoriality and defensiveness of government agencies is unprecedented, which doesn’t really pass the laugh test. So why’s the GOP training all of its artillery on this piece of the story?I suspect part of it is just a rote exercise in throwing sticky things at walls. The fact that everyone expects Clinton to run for president and be very difficult to beat augments that suspicion — her opponents want to damage her early and in any way possible. But it’s also a narrative that must be established if the full-bore Benghazi conspiracy theory is to ever have chance of breaking out of the conservative echo chamber. The CYA storyline needs to capture the public imagination to give flight to a much uglier claim that the ass covering went wildly further than evidence supports.

And for those who haven’t been following the story closely, the theory is that Obama and perhaps the State Department allowed a consulate to fall and Americans to die on purpose in order to maintain the fiction that there was no terrorist attack on their watch and thus no imperative to greenlight military action.

Think I’m exaggerating?

Here’s Peggy Noonan: “Far worse is the implied question that hung over the House hearing, and that cries out for further investigation. That is the idea that if the administration was to play down the nature of the attack it would have to play down the response–that is, if you want something to be a nonstory you have to have a nonresponse. So you don’t launch a military rescue operation, you don’t scramble jets, and you have a rationalization–they’re too far away, they’ll never make it in time. This was probably true, but why not take the chance when American lives are at stake?”

That’s the charge House Republicans are playing footsie with. Ideally they’d like it to emerge on its own and hang over the administration like stink, rather than having to really put themselves on the line by explicitly articulating it.

But that won’t happen unless and until the idea that people in the administration were trying to mislead the public about what happened takes hold. And that’s why these emails leaked.