Never Surrender

Why some Republicans are still chasing Benghazi.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who chairs the House’s committee on Benghazi, keeps on digging, digging, digging.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The world is brimming with news right now. North Korea is blackmailing the U.S. entertainment industry, the pope is secretly brokering rapprochements between the United States and the Castros, and politicians are stepping forward to enter the race to be the next leader of the free world. You might think that is enough to permanently sideline the national conversation about Benghazi.

It isn’t. Though it’s been a comparatively lean year for Benghazi news, a core group of right-leaning activists––who seem to represent a sizable chunk of the Republican base––is pushing for a maximally aggressive House investigation into the attacks, and they have an enormous slough of unanswered questions.

Either way, the Benghazi lull won’t last long. In his opening statement at the Dec. 10 House Benghazi committee hearing, Rep. Trey Gowdy, who chairs it, said the committee will have more hearings in January, February, and March.

This may seem odd. It’s been more than two years since the attacks on the Benghazi consulate that left four Americans dead, and in that time, five congressional committees and the State Department’s Accountability Review Board have all released reports on the attack and its causes. But for the most dogged Benghazi theorizers, there are always more questions.  

Conservatives’ interest in the Benghazi story varies widely. Heritage Foundation scholar James Carafano (who testified before Congress two months after the attacks) speaks to the concerns of many Republicans—and even a few Democrats. During that testimony, in 2012, Carafano focused on what the attacks can teach us about potential security vulnerabilities at other U.S. outposts.

“For me, it’s always been about understanding why the system failed—because I don’t think anybody would argue that the system worked—so we can make sure these are things that are not repeated,” he tells me.

“Somebody’s going to come back and attack an embassy again,” he says. “That’s just a given. That’s going to happen. That’s what these guys do, when they put something in their playbook they don’t let it go.”

Carafano argues that it’s unclear if the White House has improved its disaster management and crisis communications since the 2012 attacks. Plus, our military’s shrinking footprint in the Middle East and North Africa could make diplomatic outposts more vulnerable than they were two years ago. Carafano adds that he sees minimal political upside for Republicans in the investigation, at least when it comes to going after Hillary Clinton.

That’s one perspective from the right. But, as followers of the #TCOT hashtag may suspect, it’s not the only one.

The Benghazi Accountability Coalition is a group focused on pushing for continued investigations of the attacks. Its members include Allen West, former congressional candidate Dan Bongino, Frank Gaffney––famous for charging that Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood––and Ginni Thomas, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, as well as Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. According to a statement released on the eve of the Dec. 10 Benghazi hearing, they are unimpressed with the select committee’s progress thus far.

After half a dozen investigations, they still have lots of questions. Where was President Obama on the night of the attacks? (Marc Thiessen at the Washington Post wants to know this, too.) They’re also unsatisfied with the explanation of the genesis of the YouTube talking points––on the Sunday shows after the attack, then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice said the attack was the result of a video that had been posted online, which was false––and they’re totally unsatisfied with the House Intelligence Committee’s report, for a panoply of reasons that have found minimal credence in the mainstream press. And there’s the theory—promoted by WorldNetDaily, TownHall, and others—that the CIA was using the Benghazi consulate as an outpost in a gun-running operation for getting weapons to Syrian rebels.

The most relevant explanation may be the political one. Fitton, whose group has worked extensively to uncover White House communications regarding the attack through Freedom of Information Act requests, says Republicans owe their control of the Senate to Benghazi.

“Next year the new Republican Senate ought to have a moment of silence for the memories of the four men who in many ways gave them control of the Senate because of the people’s reaction to the disclosures, and the disgust at the president’s lies about that attack,” he says.

Fitton cites a poll his organization commissioned with Breitbart from the Polling Co. asking midterm voters if news about the attacks influenced their votes. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said that a revelation about the way the Obama administration characterized the attacks “IS RELEVANT AND HAS AN EFFECT ON VOTE.” The poll has some methodological issues, and its wording of the Benghazi question is suspect, but it still gives Fitton and his allies ammo to direct at Hill Republicans.

Fitton says he’s underwhelmed by the work of the select committee thus far.

“We’re hopeful that there’s something being done behind the scenes,” he says, “but it’s disappointing to see that the members behind the issue aren’t out there highlighting the questions that need to be answered.”

This puts Gowdy in a tricky place. He’s promised more hearings and a lengthy investigation, and he’s won Internet devotion for his viral-video-friendly cross-examinations of witnesses in committee hearings. But there’s seemingly insatiable grassroots interest in the attacks and, in some quarters, an endless appetite for the newest and darkest conspiracy theories. It seems incredibly unlikely that Gowdy will run an investigation that satisfies the Benghazi Accountability Coalition and its sympathizers. And after so many other investigations, nobody else seems interested.