Brock: What's Behind The House Select Committee On Media Matters?

Rep. Trey Gowdy

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.