Trey Gowdy | Media Matters for America

Trey Gowdy

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  • Fox News puts chief Benghazi mythmaker Trey Gowdy on its payroll

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    After spending years pursuing baseless congressional investigations that fed Fox News’ insatiable demand for stories on Democratic malfeasance, former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) has now signed on with the network as a contributor.

    In a Wednesday press release, Fox announced that Gowdy had been hired to “offer political and legal analysis.” The network added Gowdy to a stable of former Republican officials that also includes his predecessor as chairman of the House oversight committee, former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who left Congress in 2017 to grab a hefty Fox paycheck.

    This is no coincidence -- much of Fox’s news coverage is devoted to credulous reporting on Republican congressional investigations, making it useful for the network to have people on the payroll who can authoritatively support those inquiries’ claims.

    For years, much of Fox’s reporting revolved around the 2012 terrorist attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans, as the network aimed first to prevent President Barack Obama’s re-election and then to scuttle Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspiration.

    In the first 20 months following the attacks, the network’s evening lineup alone ran nearly 1,100 segments on the story. Much of the coverage was conspiratorial and false, devoted to proving that the Obama administration was to blame for the deaths and that Obama, Clinton, and others had deliberately deceived the public through a sinister cover-up. A rotating set of Republican congressmen rolled through Fox’s studios to give its segments weight and bolster their own political stars, even as a series of investigations debunked these myths.

    Gowdy was one of the Republican members who benefited the most from Fox’s spotlight. A former South Carolina prosecutor who used his courtroom skills to good, if sometimes deceitful, effect during congressional hearings, Gowdy made dozens of appearances on the network, often using the Fox platform to push long-debunked myths about the Benghazi attacks. When then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) gave in to a Fox campaign demanding the formation of a special committee to re-investigate the attacks, he naturally turned to Gowdy to lead the effort.

    The Benghazi select committee was a politically motivated crock, spending $7 million over more than two years to uncover little new of note about the 2012 attacks, with its highest-profile moment a dramatic hearing in which Republican representatives tried and failed to lay a glove on Clinton. It nonetheless achieved its aim: As then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) boasted during a September 2015 appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox show, the committee’s attacks damaged Clinton’s approval ratings as she sought the presidency.

    The select committee also kept Gowdy in the spotlight. He made dozens more Fox appearances, using that platform to give Fox access to the latest revelations on Benghazi. After the 2016 presidential election ended with Clinton’s defeat, Gowdy quietly shuttered the committee, then moved on to chair the oversight committee after Chaffetz abandoned Congress for his Fox gig.

    With President Donald Trump in the White House, there were plenty of opportunities for an aggressive investigator who truly cared about public corruption to dig in. But Gowdy spent his two years as head of the oversight committee doing everything he could to ignore rampant criminality and malfeasance in Trump’s campaign, company, and administration. Instead, he made headlines for his efforts to protect Trump from the purported “deep state” conspiracy that the president and his Fox News allies claim is targeting him. Among his final acts as chair was bringing in former Attorney General Loretta Lynch for a nearly seven-hour hearing about how the Justice Department and FBI handled its probe regarding Clinton’s use of a private email server.

    That’s the Trey Gowdy you can expect to see on Fox -- someone willing to go to the mat to attack Democrats while doing his best to protect Republicans.

  • A short history of phony anti-Trump conspiracy theories

    Right-wing media help Trump spin lies about the Russia investigation, and it’ll only get worse

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump has moved beyond Twitter griping and is using the powers of his office to try to discredit the Russia investigation. This past weekend, Trump demanded that the Department of Justice “look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes - and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration.” He met with top DOJ officials on Monday to pressure them to start an investigation into their own department’s investigation of Trump’s campaign.

    To observers outside the conservative media bubble, Trump’s directive was a critical moment of this presidency. “The president has now crossed one of the brightest red lines in the American rule of law: demanding the Department of Justice open a politically motivated investigation designed to sabotage the criminal and counterintelligence probe into the president’s own campaign,” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said on his show Monday. Charlie Savage of The New York Times wrote that Trump “inched further toward breaching an established constraint on executive power: The White House does not make decisions about individual law enforcement investigations.”

    The significance of Trump’s action is compounded by the fact that even the president and his subordinates acknowledge that this notion that the Obama administration acted inappropriately is just speculation. But it would be extremely convenient for Trump and his defenders if it were true -- or perceived to be true -- which is why he’s ordered this investigation.

    It's crucial to view this attempt by the White House to assert the existence of an anti-Trump cabal within the government in context: It's the latest in a series of fraudulent and debunked attemps to push such a claim. Trump’s demand that his investigators be investigated rests on a foundation of lies that was built with the critical assistance of a credulous and complicit right-wing media.

    Let’s run through all the major conspiracy theories that brought us to this point.

    Wiretapping 

    The effort by Trump and his defenders to deflect attention from the Russia investigation onto the previous administration started with this early-morning tweet from March 2017:

    It was a deathly serious allegation for the president to make, and it was completely false. Top Justice Department officials denied the allegation, a DOJ court filing affirmed that there are “no records related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017 tweets,” and the president has not produced any evidence to back up his accusation.

    Nonetheless, Trump’s defenders in the conservative media contorted themselves to try to prove Trump was right, especially following House intelligence committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes’ March 22, 2017, press conference (which Nunes secretly coordinated with the White House) announcing that “surveillance activities were used against President Trump and his associates.”

    Unmasking 

    Speaking of Nunes, he became the driving force behind the allegation that Obama administration officials had improperly unmasked the identities of Trump associates whose conversations were incidentally captured by intelligence agencies. Once again acting on information provided by the Trump White House, Nunes accused former national security adviser Susan Rice and other Obama officials of abusing the unmasking process. Rice acknowledged that she had requested certain identities, but congressional investigators from both parties said she’d done nothing wrong.

    The “unmasking” nonsense permeated conservative media and was presented as evidence of an Obama-led conspiracy to undermine Trump as president-elect. Trump himself told The New York Times that he believed Rice had committed a crime.

    “Secret society”

    This was an especially stupid fiasco kicked up by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX). The pair went on Fox News to reveal the existence of a text message exchange between two FBI agents sent the day after the 2016 election that referenced a “secret society” supposedly populated by anti-Trump law enforcement officials. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, seized on the message to allege “corruption at the highest levels of the FBI.” Conservative media went absolutely crazy with the “secret society” allegation, holding it up as proof of a “deep state” conspiracy against Trump.

    The “secret society” turned out to be nothing more than an inside joke between the two agents.

    Obama “wants to know everything we’re doing”

    The White House’s deflection strategy rests on the idea that Barack Obama corrupted law enforcement agencies by directing them to investigate Donald Trump’s campaign as a way of undermining his candidacy. To that end, Republicans and conservatives are invested in demonstrating that Obama actively meddled in politically sensitive law enforcement business, such as the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

    In February, Johnson’s committee released a report alleging that a text message from an FBI agent stating that Obama “wants to know everything we’re doing” raised “questions about the type and extent of President Obama’s personal involvement in the Clinton email scandal and the FBI investigation of it.”

    Once again, conservative media was driven to a frenzy, fueled partially by Trump’s tweet that the “NEW FBI TEXTS ARE BOMBSHELLS!” And, once again, it all turned out to be false -- the text in question referred to presidential briefing materials regarding the investigation into Russian election interference, not Clinton.

    FBI hid info from the FISA court 

    In February, Nunes’ committee released a memo that, according to the frantic hype that preceded its release, would reveal rampant surveillance abuses committed by intelligence agencies against the Trump campaign. Chief among the alleged abuses was the accusation that the FBI had illicitly obtained a warrant to surveil former Trump aide Carter Page by concealing from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court the political origin of some of the evidence it cited in its application.

    Right-wing media figures like Sean Hannity called this “Watergate times a thousand” and said the FBI “lie[d] to a foreign intelligence surveillance court.” Trump tweeted that the memo “totally vindicates” him and showed the Russia investigation to be “an American disgrace.”

    It was a lie -- the political origin of the evidence was indeed disclosed in the FBI application -- and Nunes and his Republican colleagues admitted as much in the days following the memo’s release.

    What emerges from all this is a damning picture of a Republican political operation -- involving the White House and key members of Congress -- to concoct blatant falsehoods and conspiracy theories, and a conservative media apparatus that readily absorbs and rebroadcasts that propaganda. At a certain level, behavior like this is to be expected -- these same characters spent all eight years of the Obama administration cobbling together ridiculous conspiracy theories about Benghazi, the former president’s birthplace, and a secret military invasion of Texas.

    There is a key difference, however, in all the lying about the Russia investigation. These conspiracy theories are defensive. Most conservative pundits will describe the Russia investigation as a threat to the very fabric of American government; they recognize the extreme danger it poses to Trump’s presidency. Trump himself has no discernible legal strategy. Instead, he’s fighting a public relations campaign and casting himself as the victim of a “witch hunt.”

    These attacks on the legitimacy of the investigation are the only weapon they have against it. And as the investigation exposes Trump to more and more legal and political peril, the conspiratorial attacks on the Justice Department and the Obama administration become more strident. Trump used to be content to vent on Twitter about the Russia investigation, but now he’s using the weight of his office to give life to an evidence-free accusation of political persecution.  

    Trump relies on the conservative media’s unthinking support as he wages this increasingly unhinged campaign. He needs to hear the hosts of Fox & Friends chirp every morning about how each new phony “bombshell” about the Russia investigation vindicates him. He needs to chat with Sean Hannity every night before bedtime about how Robert Mueller is out to get him. But Trump is only going to get more frustrated as each increasingly elaborate falsehood fails to produce the desired outcome, and that means the coordinated lying and conspiracy-mongering are only going to get worse as the investigation moves forward.

  • Fox's Chris Wallace asks if GOP hurt its credibility by hyping "secret society" text, ignoring that Fox News hyped it too

    Fox News aired the phrase “secret society” over 100 times over two days, then went silent after reports showed the text was a joke

    Blog ››› ››› KATIE SULLIVAN

    On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace displayed a shocking lack of self-awareness when he asked his guest, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), if “Republicans hurt their credibility on real issues of bias when they make such a big deal about secret societies and palace coups?” referring to the GOP hyping a text message between two FBI employees referencing a "secret society." Wallace ignored Fox News’ role in hyping the texts, airing the term "secret society" over 100 times on Fox News over the course of two days, before stopping abruptly after it was reported the “secret society” reference was likely a joke.

    On January 22, Gowdy appeared on Fox News' The Story with Martha MacCallum along with Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX), where he announced that a text message between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page contained the line, “Perhaps this is the first meeting of the secret society.” According to a Media Matters analysis, Fox proceeded to air the phrase "secret society" over 100 times over the next two days. Then, on January 24, ABC News noted that the message "may have been made in jest," reporting that the full text message read: "Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society." The next day, Fox hosts, anchors, and guests stopped mentioning the phrase "secret society" almost entirely, with only a few quick mentions on some of the evening shows.

    From the January 28 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:

    CHRIS WALLACE (HOST): WALLACE: I want to ask you one last question, we're running out of time here. There's clearly some troubling evidence and clearly the Strzok-Page memos [texts] are deeply troubling, and, you know, go to it in investigating that. There also have been some issues of potential hype by Republicans, and I want to give you an example. This week Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) brought up the issue of a secret society inside the Justice Department. Here he is. 

    [...]

    WALLACE: Don't Republicans hurt their credibility on real issues of bias when they make such a big deal about secret societies and palace coups? 

    REP. TREY GOWDY (R-SC): Yes. Republicans are the best I've ever seen at taking good facts and overstating them and therefore changing the narrative. I don't know what they meant by secret society. I didn't use the phrase. It is fair to ask them. But if it were a joke, Chris, then was it also a joke to mention the insurance policy? Was also a joke to talk about impeachment the morning after President Trump won? Was it also a joke to say I have no interest in participating in an investigation if he is going to be cleared. There's a pattern, and Republicans are better served by letting the texts speak for themselves. I have no idea what they meant by that. I don't know if it was a joke or not. It's not my job to figure it out. These two witnesses need to come in and tell us what they meant by it and everything they else said over the course of 18 months, Republicans would be well served, let the texts speak for themselves. Let the jury make up their mind and quit engaging in hyperbole, which we seem to do a lot. 

  • These Are The Candidates Right-Wing Media Are Floating To Head The FBI

    ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    Following President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, conservative media floated extreme right-wing personalities to lead the FBI. These possible FBI director replacements have a history of racist and anti-Muslim comments often made on Fox News, and their records demonstrate they can’t be trusted to lead the bureau impartially through the ongoing FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia in 2016.

  • Right-Wing Media’s “Shadow Government” Conspiracy Theory: Ben Rhodes Edition

    ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    Right-wing media figures are hyping claims from the Washington Free Beacon suggesting former White House aide Ben Rhodes may be part of a “secret, months-long campaign by former Obama administration confidantes to handicap President Donald Trump's national security apparatus,” beginning with recently resigned White House national security adviser Michael Flynn. The claims, which resemble similar allegations from The New York Post’s Paul Sperry, are largely based on anonymous sources.

  • House Benghazi Committee Shuts Down After Spending $7.8 Million Taxpayers Dollars In A Media Fueled Witch Hunt 

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    After two and a half years, the House Benghazi Committee has ended their right-wing media endorsed attempt to blame Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration for the deaths of four Americans during the 2012 attack on a temporary diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya.

    The House Select Committee on Benghazi was created in May 2014 “to form a 12-member committee to investigate the Obama administration’s handling of the 2012 attacks” after Fox News’ unrelenting coverage of the attack for two years despite a review by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and an independent report by the State Department Accountability Review Board (ARB) found no wrongdoing by the administration.

    Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton became the focal point of conservative media smears when the committee revealed that Clinton had been using a private email server during her time at the State Department. Right-wing media relentlessly attacked Clinton on the private server, repeatedly claiming released emails revealed Benghazi “smoking gun[s].” They didn’t.. Adding to the political nature of the committee was admissions by Republicans that the purpose of the investigation was to damage the likely Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton.

    After more than two years and $7.8 million dollars, the House Benghazi Committee shutdown. USA Today reported that while the House Benghazi Committee “accused the government of incompetence at various levels … the [final] report did not single out wrongdoing by then secretary of state Hillary Clinton.” And while Republicans on the committee called the investigation and the report a “‘final, definitive accounting’” of the attack, Democrats “contended all along that the committee was a political effort to taint Clinton”:

    WASHINGTON — The special congressional investigation into the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi is officially over now that the panel filed its final report the day before the House adjourned for the year.

    The Select Committee on Benghazi initially released its findings in June but remained in place for months afterward trying to declassify supporting documents like emails and interview transcripts for public release.

    The final report, not including dissenting views from committee Democrats, clocks in at more than 322,000 words. It was added to the official House record without fanfare on Dec. 7 by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the panel’s chairman.

    The panel, which spent more than $7.8 million over two and a half years, disbanded at the end of the 114th Congress, before a new Congress begins in January.

    [...]

    Democrats contended all along that the committee was a political effort to taint Clinton, an allegation that got some traction when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told Fox News that because of the committee, "her numbers are dropping."

    The panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, said Monday that the final report was a “desperate rehash.”

    “Republicans voted on this partisan report five months ago, but delayed filing it and completing the committee until after the election,” Cummings said. “Republicans promised a process that was fair and bipartisan, but the American people got exactly the opposite.”

  • Media Fell For Bogus “New Information” Spin In GOP Benghazi Report

    ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Several media outlets falsely reported that the final report released by Republicans on the House Select Committee on Benghazi contained “new information,” when in fact all of the “key findings” in the report had been previously reported. Committee Republicans reportedly released “embargoed ‘exclusives’” strategically to manipulate reporters into presenting details in the releases as new information.

  • Benghazi Chairman Contradicts Fox Report, Admits Military Could Not Have Saved Lives In Benghazi Attack

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT

    Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) directly contradicted claims made by anonymous Fox News sources who argued the military could have done more to prevent loss of life during the 2012 attack on an American compound in Benghazi, Libya.

    Fox correspondent  Adam Housley cited two anonymous sources in an  attempt to revive a debunked smear against the Obama administration and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton that officials had readily available assets that could have saved lives during the attack. After Housley’s report aired during the May 11 edition of Fox News’ Special Report, Gowdy urged Housley’s two “witnesses” to appear before the select committee he heads and speak.

    On May 17, Fox host Bill Hemmer asked Gowdy about reports that his attorney, Dana Chipman, said nothing more could have been done to save Americans in Benghazi. Gowdy responded, “I don’t think there’s any issue with respect to that -- they couldn’t,” directly contradicting the accounts of the anonymous sources appearing on Special Report on May 11. From the May 17 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:

    TREY GOWDY: Dana Chipman is an honorable, good man. He served this country with great distinction and he served our committee with great distinction. That was a transcript from one question he asked Leon Panetta and Jeremy Bash. When you see the full transcript -- and you will -- then you will see that what Dana was talking about was a very small point. The posture of the troops, the order that was given by Panetta and the president, how that order was received -- all of that is what we want to ask people about. Whether or not they could have gotten there in time, I don’t think there’s any issue with respect to that -- they couldn’t. The next question is, why could you not? Why were you not positioned to do it?”

    Fox News has a history of citing anonymous sources, fraudulent “experts, and dishonest sources in its obsessive attempt to find a “smoking gun” to claim the Obama administration lied about the Benghazi attacks, despite multiple investigations that have found no wrongdoing.

  • Benghazi Chairman’s Own Counsel Undercuts Conservative Myth That Benghazi Response Was Willfully Negligent

    Former GOP Counsel To Rep. Trey Gowdy Reportedly Praised Obama Administration Officials For Military Response To Benghazi Attacks

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    The former chief counsel to Benghazi committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) reportedly “repeatedly commended the military’s actions” responding to the 2012 Benghazi terror attacks, undercutting conservative media claims that there were additional assets the military could have deployed to save more lives as the attacks unfolded.

    Conservative media, led by Fox News, have for years attempted to scandalize the Obama administration’s response to the 2012 Benghazi attacks, often claiming -- in the face of numerous investigations and testimony to the contrary -- that CIA and military personnel were prevented from taking actions that could have saved the Americans who were killed during the attacks. As recently as last week, Fox hosted two anonymous witnesses who claimed that there were actions the military could have taken to save more lives.

    On May 16, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, released a letter sent to Gowdy detailing that his “own former Republican Chief Counsel … repeatedly commended the military’s actions” during the attack. The counsel allegedly told Leon Panetta, who was secretary of defense at the time of the attack, “I think you ordered exactly the right forces to move out and to head toward a position where they could reinforce what was occurring in Benghazi,” and, “I don’t mean to suggest that anything could have been done differently to affect the outcome in Benghazi, and I think you would agree with that.” Gowdy’s former counsel also reportedly told the Defense Department’s former chief of staff, Jeremy Bash, “I would posit that from my perspective ... we could not have affected the response to what occurred by 5:15 in the morning on the 12th of September in Benghazi.”

    Cummings noted, “The conclusions of your former Republican Chief Counsel match almost exactly the findings” from previous investigations into the attacks, which found that all available resources were deployed in response to the attack. Cummings also lambasted Gowdy for “damag[ing] the credibility of the Select Committee beyond repair” by “dragging out the investigation so close to the presidential election” and “demanding that the Defense Department waste countless hours and taxpayer funds” in pursuit of a non-existent smoking gun.

  • Pentagon Criticizes Benghazi Committee For Straining DOD Resources, Partly Over “Speculation”

    Right-Wing Media Has Hyped False Claims And Speculation Into Benghazi That Continue To Fuel The GOP Investigation

    Blog ››› ››› THOMAS BISHOP

    The Department of Defense criticized the investigation of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, saying repeated requests for documents and information have strained DOD resources and that they’re often based on, as Politico put it, “speculative or hypothetical” queries. Right-wing media have created many of the baseless conspiracy theories that helped create and fuel the Benghazi committee.

    In an April 28 letter to the House Select Committee on Benghazi, Assistant Secretary of Defense Stephen Hedger explained the strain the House investigation has had on the DOD, which has spent “millions of dollars on Benghazi-specific Congressional compliance, including reviews by four other committees.” Hedger specifically took issue with the ever-expanding investigation -- and its speculative nature -- noting that “DoD interviewees have been asked repeatedly to speculate or engage in discussing on the record hypotheticals posed by Committee Members and staff.” Politico reported on the letter:

    The Pentagon is pushing back against the House Benghazi Committee, saying its repeated requests for documents and interviews are straining the department's resources — and, to make matters worse, many of the queries are speculative or hypothetical.

    Assistant Secretary of Defense Stephen Hedger complained in a letter to the committee on Thursday about its continued demands for information, and implied that the panel is grasping to make assertions based on theory rather than facts.

    “[W]hile I understand your stated intent is to conduct the most comprehensive review of the attack and response, Congress has as much of an obligation as the executive branch to use federal resources and taxpayer dollars effectively and efficiently,” the letter reads. “The Department has spent millions of dollars on Benghazi-specific Congressional compliance, including reviews by four other committees, which have diligently reviewed the military’s response in particular.”

    Hedger also complained that Defense Department interviewees “have been asked repeatedly to speculate or engage in discussing on the record hypotheticals.”

    “This type of questioning poses the risk that your final report may be based on speculation rather than a fact-based analysis of what a military officer did do or could have done given his or her knowledge at the time of the attacks,” he wrote.

    Fox News was central to the launch and perpetuation of false information that led to the establishment of the Benghazi Select Committee. By May 2, 2014 -- 20 months after the attack -- Fox had devoted 1,098 segments to Benghazi, with 97 percent of its congressional and administration interviews featuring Republicans. In fact, House Select Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) repeatedly used Fox News as a platform to push speculation and false claims about Benghazi. And Fox chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge bragged that Fox News helped spur the House investigation.

    Right-wing media have repeatedly pushed conspiracy theories in order to scandalize the Obama administration’s response to the Benghazi attacks. Conservative media have claimed to have uncovered multiple “smoking gun[s]” proving that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration committed wrongdoing in responding to the attacks. By May 2, 2014, Fox had compared Benghazi to Iran-Contra, Watergate, and other controversial actions by the Nixon administration 120 times.  And conservatives continue to promote the false claim that the Obama administration issued a “stand down” order to soldiers responding to the Benghazi attacks.

    Right-wing media continue to fuel the Benghazi dumpster fire in an effort to hurt Hillary Clinton, and conservative Republicans seem all too happy to use the Benghazi Select Committee to investigate the right-wing media’s theories.