During his deposition last week before a congressional panel investigating the 2012 tragedy in Benghazi, Libya, Sidney Blumenthal -- a former journalist and Clinton White House adviser and my longtime friend -- was asked more than 45 questions by the Republicans about his relationships with me, Media Matters, and a pair of super PACs I founded, American Bridge and Correct The Record.
By comparison, Blumenthal was asked by those same Republicans fewer than 20 questions about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, only four questions about U.S. security there, and zero questions about the U.S. presence in Benghazi, according to a fact sheet circulated by Democratic committee staff.
The chairman of the House Select Committee, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, was especially animated in quizzing Blumenthal, who, as the press reported weeks ago, is a paid consultant to my aforementioned groups. Gowdy asked Blumenthal about his role in the production and promotion of four Media Matters research posts that were sharply critical of various false claims made by conservative media on Benghazi. Another Republican asked if Blumenthal had written or edited a recent statement from Correct the Record pointing out the partisan agenda behind the committee's ongoing investigation. (Blumenthal testified, accurately, that he had no role in any of it, though even if he had, what does that have to do with the avowed purpose of the committee?)
Had the Republicans done some research, they would have discovered that our relationship is no secret. Blumenthal and I both wrote about it in our respective memoirs of the Clinton White House years, The Clinton Wars and Blinded by the Right, both published more than a decade ago.
So how did the House Select Committee on Benghazi suddenly morph into the House Select Committee on Media Matters? Why are the Republicans more interested in The Benghazi Hoax, the title of an e-book published by Media Matters, than in Benghazi itself? Let's count the ways.
The Select Committee on Benghazi is the tenth congressional committee to investigate the events surrounding the Benghazi attacks. None of them -- including the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee -- have found significant wrongdoing by the Obama administration, and many of the investigations have cleared the administration of the false conspiracies conservative media have put forward. Yet Gowdy's committee has been investigating the same issue for 409 days, longer than U.S. inquiries into Pearl Harbor or the Kennedy assassination or Iran-Contra, according to a statement by the Democratic minority. They calculate the cost to U.S. taxpayers at $3.5 million -- and counting.
At this point, it's obvious that the committee's intended target is potential Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. If all the Republicans have left to nail her with is Media Matters and Blumenthal, this is an investigation that may as well shut down. There isn't even a whiff of scandal here. Media Matters sources of all its research to publicly available information and original reporting, and we make our work product public on this website. If the Republicans want to figure out what we're up to, the answer is a click away.
Not only is there nothing amiss here; we're proud of the good work we do.
I wish I could say the same for the Republican-led committee, which at this hour is refusing requests from committee Democrats and from Blumenthal to release the transcript of his deposition. Clearly, Gowdy doesn't want the public to see his handiwork.
On one level, the Republicans are sitting on the deposition -- while apparently leaking select parts to the media -- to save themselves from political embarrassment. Blumenthal was asked hundreds of questions in the course of a nearly nine-hour inquisition -- ostensibly so that the committee could learn more about a notional business deal to provide humanitarian assistance in Libya that ended up never coming to fruition, with no money changing hands and no favors sought from the U.S. government.
In fact, Blumenthal told me that the lead Republican lawyer for the committee told him and his lawyers at the end of a long day of questioning that "maybe we got five minutes worth of something."
Yet while the inquiry was a pointless waste of time and money with respect to the committee's mandate, in fact it was not without a purpose. The questions about Blumenthal's long-standing personal relationship with the Clintons, about his work at the Clinton Foundation, and about his work with us, were wholly illegitimate and out-of-bounds. But they were not without a design, and an insidious one at that.
By refusing to release the transcript, the Republicans want to hide the true nature of the Blumenthal deposition: Their partisan attempt to both chill Blumenthal's right to freely express his own political views and more broadly to intimidate our organizations -- organizations that have led the way in exposing the fraudulence of the Benghazi investigation itself. (Not to mention our role in specifically defending Hillary Clinton from the Republicans' unfair attacks on the subject).
If Democrats had hauled a politically active Republican before a congressional committee and spent hours grilling the witness on his political and professional associations and activities -- "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Democratic Party?"-- I can only imagine the hue and cry about the abuse of Congressional power we'd be hearing from the conservative echo chamber right now. Yet progressives for the most part have stayed silent in the face of this blatant effort to suppress First Amendment rights.
Well, not us. After the deposition concluded, I publicly offered to give Gowdy a tour of our offices at his convenience. There he would find hard-working staffers committed to providing the public with fact-based information upon which to understand and judge the critical issues of the day -- including the tragic deaths of four Americans in Benghazi that have been shamelessly politicized by Republicans.
Gowdy would also meet groups that won't be thrown off-mission or harassed or cowed into standing down by desperate partisans who have nothing to offer voters in the coming election but recycled pseudo-scandals.
From the May 26 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell threw cold water on Fox News' latest faulty Benghazi narrative, characterizing a report that says the Obama administration knew that the attacks were planned in advance as inaccurate. Morell criticized Fox and the media at large for habitually scandalizing the Benghazi attacks based on incomplete or unsupported claims.
Michael Morell criticized Fox News and other media outlets for perpetuating "Benghazi myths" in a May 25 article for Politico, accusing "pundits [who] don't understand intelligence work" of spreading misinformation. Morell lambasted a recent report that claimed that the "Obama administration knew that al Qaeda terrorists had planned" the Benghazi attack "10 days in advance." explaining that the report was based off "raw intelligence" from a single source and did not accurately represent the conclusions of the intelligence community.
"The only thing that newly released document proves," Morell wrote, "is that the people who trot out these reports do not understand the world of intelligence and do not take the time to ask the right people the right questions before publishing the 'news.'" Morell noted that numerous other unclassified documents directly contradict the single Defense Intelligence report scandalized by the media:
The DIA report in question was an "Intelligence Information Report" or IIR. It is what we term "raw intelligence." It was not the considered view of DIA analysts. Often from a single source, these bits of information represent one thread that some intelligence collector has picked up. The all source analysts in the Intelligence Community are charged with looking at that snippet of information and every other bit of available information from communications intercepts, human intelligence, open source material and much more to come up with an overall judgment.
Those all source analysts--without any input or pressure from above--looked at all the available information and determined that there wasnota significant amount of planning prior to the attacks. You don't have to take my word for it. You can look at the briefing slides produced by the National Counterterrorism Center (which is not part of CIA) and coordinated across the Intelligence Community. These slides were declassified over a year ago and were appended to the report on Benghazi produced by the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee. In describing the attacks at the State Department facility, the slides say "attackers moving in multiple directions," "attackers do not appear well coordinated" and "no organized effort to breach every building." Not the words one would expect to see associated with an attack planned well in advance.
Morell went on to blast Fox for also cherry-picking from the indictment of Abu Khattala, the only participant in the attacks currently in U.S. custody, to support its Benghazi claims. During the May 11 edition of Fox News' Special Report, host Bret Baier quoted the indictment in an effort to push the network's faulty assertion that the attack had been pre-planned, claiming that it had noted "premeditation" and demanding Morell answer whether the indictment was wrong. But Morell notes that Baier left out important context from the indictment that indicated "the grand jury found no evidence of planning before the day of the attack":
What my interviewer failed to share with his viewers were these words from the indictment: "Beginning on a date unknown to the Grand Jury but no later than on or about September 11, 2012...defendant Khatallah did knowingly and intentionally conspire...." (emphasis mine). What does this mean? It means that the grand jury found no evidence of planning before the day of the attack either. Exactly the point of the intelligence community analysts.
Fox News has similarly continuously seized on every available opportunity to scandalize the attacks on the diplomatic compound at Benghazi. In the 20 months between September 2012 to May 2014, the network aired an astounding 1,098 evening and primetime segments dedicated to Benghazi. Despite numerous reports debunking the network's false narratives surrounding the attack, Fox has relentlessly continued to promote them.
From the April 27 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the April 22 edition of Fox News' On The Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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Fox News figures are adopting an impossible standard to launch unprovable allegations against Hillary Clinton, arguing that the absence of an email can insinuate that Clinton either withheld or destroyed evidence.
Gowdy, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, claimed on the March 8 edition of CBS' Face The Nation that there are "gaps of months" in Clinton's email documents turned over by the State Department for the committee's investigation. To prove his claim, Gowdy referenced a photo of Clinton on her phone during a trip to Tripoli, Libya, and the absence of any email from that day related to Benghazi. According to Gowdy's logic: "It strains credibility to believe that if you're on your way to Libya to discuss Libyan policy that there's not a single document that's been turned over to Congress."
Fox News personalities quickly adopted Gowdy's absurd line of attack against Clinton. On his radio show, Sean Hannity asserted that "you can't tell me that it was an accident that 55,000 pages of emails were turned over but not one was about Benghazi." Fox contributor Andrew Napolitano took the attack further alleging that Clinton's control of her documents means Gowdy "does not know if she gave him everything he subpoenaed." Bill O'Reilly echoed Gowdy's allegations on the March 9 edition of his show, saying "there's already a gap brought out by Congressman Gowdy" because "the day that she traveled to Libya, there's no emails that came out on that and it's inconceivable that she wouldn't have any." And during an interview with Gowdy, Megyn Kelly agreed with demands that Clinton turn over her private email server stating that Clinton "chose to create a situation" where questions about her emails would need to be answered.
According to that fallacious reasoning, the absence of evidence proves wrongdoing on Clinton's part.
The reality is, the State Department turned over Clinton emails related to Benghazi to the Select Committee months ago. In a March 6 letter chastising Gowdy for "the very partisan and political turn" to issue a subpoena to Clinton, Democratic members of the House Select Committee noted that the State Department already turned over 300 Clinton emails related to Benghazi, and those emails confirm the findings of the Accountability Review Board:
These documents include no evidence to suggest that Secretary Clinton ordered the Secretary of Defense to "stand down," no evidence to suggest that she was personally involved in denying requests for security for Benghazi, and no evidence to suggest that she ordered the destruction of documents. Nothing in these emails contradicts or calls into question the findings of the independent Accountability Review Board.
From the February 15 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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From the January 30 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the January 29 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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From the January 28 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show:
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Fox host Martha MacCallum rehashed Benghazi hoaxster Sharyl Attkisson's repeatedly debunked allegation that Hillary Clinton's State Department staff had "sifted through" and removed damaging Benghazi documents before turning them over to investigators, just days after a second witness has allegedly undermined Attkisson's report according to a letter from the ranking Democrat on The House Select Committee on Benghazi.
In a September 2014 report for The Daily Signal, Sharyl Attkisson baselessly claimed that Hillary Clinton's State Department staff scrubbed "damaging documents before they were turned over to the Accountability Review Board investigating security lapses surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya." Although Attkisson's report was denied by the State Department and relied solely on speculations from disgruntled former State Department employee Raymond Maxwell, Fox News quickly heralded it as a "bombshell" and "smoking gun."
A recently published November 2014 letter penned by the ranking Democrat on the House Benghazi Select Committee, Elijah Cummings, further undermined Attkisson's allegations, explaining that a second witness who Raymond Maxwell said could "corroborate his allegations" actually denied them, saying "he was never instructed to flag information in documents that might be unfavorable to the Department."
Despite the new developments, Fox News revived the discredited claim on the January 28 edition of America's Newsroom. Discussing the Benghazi Select Committee's third hearing, co-host Martha MacCallum attempted to assuage committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC)'s claim that the Obama administration is withholding Benghazi documents, pointing to "the story a while back about documents being sifted through at the State Department over a weekend." MacCallum also went on to suggest "it could be that some of what you're looking for simply isn't around anymore."
From the January 27 hearing of the House Select Committee on Benghazi:
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The House Select Committee on Benghazi has been unable to corroborate Sharyl Attkisson's latest "bombshell" Benghazi exclusive, which claimed that "Hillary Clinton confidants were part of an operation to 'separate' damaging documents" about the 2012 attacks before they were turned over to investigators. According to the committee's ranking Democrat, a "second witness" allegedly undermined the report.
In September, Attkisson reported for the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal that former State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell alleged he had witnessed an "after hours session" at State Department headquarters at which he was told that employees had been ordered to "pull out anything that might put anybody" in the department's leadership "in a bad light" before documents were handed over to the Accountability Review Board, which was investigating the attacks. Maxwell claimed the actions were "unethical." Fox News quickly trumpeted the story as "a smoking gun of a potential cover-up," claiming that it showed State had been "scrubbing the documents" which were "destroyed" on Clinton's behalf.
The implication that documents were withheld as Maxwell claimed -- which the State Department told Attkisson was "totally without merit" -- never really added up. Maxwell, one of four State employees to be disciplined for their role in the Benghazi attacks, had testified before two House committees and given multiple interviews in the 18 months before the Attkisson piece. But he reportedly never mentioned the alleged "after hours session" in those previous statements, instead focusing on how he was supposedly scapegoated to protect higher-ups at State from accountability. Slate's David Weigel called the discrepancy "baffling," writing of the account, "Holy ... what the ... why not mention that sooner? Previously, this was a story of a guy who was railroaded in order to protect the Clintons. It could have been a story about a guy who witnessed Clinton allies hiding evidence. ... Why hold off on the 'scrubbing' until now?"
Now, new evidence calls the story further into question. In a November 2014 letter just published by Mother Jones on the eve of the Benghazi Select Committee's third hearing, Ranking Member Elijah Cummings writes to committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), stating that Maxwell had identified to the committee's Republican staff a "second witness that he claimed was present during this document review" who could "corroborate his allegations," but that the "second witness" denied Maxwell's claims when interviewed by Republican staff. Cummings further alleges that Republican staff deliberately hid this information from Democratic staff.
In the letter, after highlighting an October 17 Fox News interview in which Gowdy said he planned to investigate Maxwell's claims, Cummings writes:
In fact, several weeks before you made those public statements, your staff had already interviewed Mr. Maxwell, but they did not include, invite, or even notify Democratic Members or staff. Mr. Maxwell apparently identified for your staff a second witness that he claimed was present during this document review at the State Department. Mr. Maxwell identified this person as someone who could corroborate his allegations and someone he believes is credible.
Then, on October 16 -- one day before you appeared on Fox News -- your staff interviewed this second witness, again without including Democrats. However, this second witness did not substantiate Mr. Maxwell's claims. To the contrary, he did not recall having been in the document review session Mr. Maxwell described, and he said he was never instructed to flag information in documents that might be unfavorable to the Department. He further reported that he never engaged or was aware of any destruction of documents.
I did not discover any of this information from you or your staff but from the witnesses themselves. When my staff inquired with your staff about what they learned from the witness identified by Mr. Maxwell, your staff stated that he had worked at the State Department during the relevant time period. Beyond that, however, they reported: "we learned nothing else of note in our discussion, so we don't plan to conduct any additional follow-up."
I am sure you understand -- as a former prosecutor -- that evaluating the credibility of witnesses and their allegations depends on whether the information they provide can be corroborated. Although your staff stated that they learned nothing "of note," in fact they learned that this claim was not substantiated by a key witness. If our goal is the truth and not a preconceived political narrative, these interviews should have been conducted jointly, with both Democrats and Republicans present.
Gowdy has not directly addressed Cummings' claims about Maxwell's story, either in a staff statement or in a letter to the committee's Democrats released after Cummings' letter was published by Mother Jones. He instead warned that Cummings' "characterization of witness testimony... not only risks an adverse effect on the investigation but could also negatively impact the witness' careers."
Research provided by Sophia Tesfaye and Cal Colgan.
Former CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson has been invited by Republicans to testify at a hearing on President Obama's attorney general nominee, Loretta Lynch. Attkisson, who writes for the conservative Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal and has been praised by Fox News and Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) for her shoddy reporting, is currently involved in a lawsuit targeting the Department of Justice.
According to a report on Monday by The Hill, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced that Attkisson "will testify during this week's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Loretta Lynch, Obama's nominee to replace Eric Holder as attorney general."
Attkisson recently named outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder and the DOJ in a $35 million lawsuit alleging that federal officials hacked into her computers and phones from 2011 to 2013. Although CBS News confirmed that Attkisson's then work-issued laptop had been compromised by an unknown source, Attkisson's claim of "some government tie," suggesting the hack was conducted by government officials, has been called out for egregious inconsistencies. Nevertheless, Attkisson went on to claim that the alleged government hack had caused ongoing electronic malfunctions with the phone, television and cable systems in her home.
But in fact, computer security experts said video released by Attkisson as evidence of a hack on her personal computer actually appeared to show her computer "malfunction[ing]," likely due to a stuck backspace key. Attkisson subsequently went on to walk back claims that the alleged hack affected her other home technology. Attkisson admitted that the issues "may in the end have nothing to do with the intrusion" into her work computer.
The Justice Department has denied Attkisson's allegations and a DOJ spokesperson told Business Insider in May 2013 that "to our knowledge, the Justice Department has never 'compromised' Ms. At[t]kisson's computers, or otherwise sought any information from or concerning any telephone, computer, or other media device she may own or use."
But despite her legal fight with the DOJ, the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, called Attkisson to speak on a panel of witnesses that include Catherine Engelbrecht, the president of the voter ID group True the Vote, a conservative media favorite that actively hypes virtually non-existent voter fraud. Attkisson was praised by Issa for her shoddy reporting, which has in the past been based off misleading leaks from Issa's committee. She has also been hailed as a great reporter by many of Fox News' on-air personalities, some of whom have based their Benghazi coverage on her misinformation.
Fox News established close ties with Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, as each used one another to amplify smears against the Obama administration related to the Benghazi attacks in 2012. Now Graham is cashing in the credibility and profile Fox and Benghazi helped him build, announcing he's exploring a run for president in 2016.