Bradley Podliska had no agenda. An Air Force Reserve and intelligence officer, Podliska joined the House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Benghazi to investigate the 2012 attacks that killed four Americans. With his extensive experience in national security analysis, Podliska seemed like a perfect fit. But after several months on the committee, he felt his superiors’ attitude toward him growing disdainful. While the rest of the committee fixated on the involvement of Hillary Clinton and the State Department, Podliska believed he would gain more by looking into the response of other federal agencies. One superior scolded him for not “rowing with the team,” admonishing him to “keep his head down” instead of presenting information not related to Clinton. Another actively tried to prevent him from sitting in on a deposition.
“You have no idea what you’re doing here,” the superior told Podliska. “You have no clue what’s going on.”
Four days later, Podliska was fired. The committee alleged that he had mishandled classified information. He had done no such thing: The document in question used only publicly available resources from the Internet. John McIntyre Tolar, the security manager who fired Podliska, later acknowledged that Podliska hadn’t breached security protocol. In fact, it was Tolar who disobeyed classification procedure, printing out classified material on an unclassified system and utilizing an unsecure conference room for interviews.
Tolar’s duties were officially nonpartisan. He was employed by the committee to serve both Republicans and Democrats. But when he demanded that Podliska delete his work, Tolar gave a remarkably candid justification. He said he didn’t want “Democrats finding out about it.”
On Monday, Podliska filed a lawsuit against the committee and its chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, alleging all these facts and many, many more. At the heart of Podliska’s suit are dual claims of defamation and discrimination: defamation by Gowdy, who repeated the lie about Podliska’s security violation, and discrimination against Podliska for serving in the armed forces. But the complaint does much more than allege a few illegal acts. It tells the story of a committee increasingly infected with politics, partisan and paranoid, and devoted to uncovering a conspiracy that—as Podliska eventually realized—simply did not exist.
By Podliska’s telling, the committee reached a critical decision point in March. Podliska had just returned from 39 days of service with the Air Force to discover that the focus of the investigation had shifted. Previously, Podliska was eager to study the performance of multiple federal agencies. But that March, the committee informed him that the investigation had become “agency-centric,” focusing on one thing: the State Department. Podliska was, according to his suit, “unwilling to go along with the hyper-focus on the State Department and Secretary Clinton based upon the fact that his comprehensive, thorough, and objective investigation was pointing at other agencies and individuals and not solely the State Department and Secretary Clinton.”
His superiors bristled, and that’s when the real trouble began.
The first sign seemed silly. Committee members frequently attended team-building events. For instance, Republicans on the committee often gathered for Wine Wednesdays, when they drank alcohol from custom-made glasses engraved with the words “glacial pace”—a criticism Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings had made of the committee’s work. The Republicans also organized a gun-buyer’s club, meeting in a conference room during work hours to design custom-made, monogrammed, silver-plated “Tiffany-style” Glock 9 mm semi-automatic pistols.
Podliska suggested he and his colleagues attend a popular Rack of Pork Reception to eat ribs and do team-building. He was sharply reprimanded by the same superior who frequented Wine Wednesdays.
The indignities kept escalating—and soon, the committee’s animus toward Podliska manifested itself in snide comments about his Air Force duties. When Podliska took another brief military leave, one superior openly stated: “I question whether Brad [Plaintiff] really needs to go to Germany.” He later admitted that he had previously questioned the validity of Podliska’s military operations.
And that purported break of security protocol? The charges weren’t just trumped up; they were laughable. Podliska was an expert in classification review, with three years of direct experience. Tolar had no understanding of the process—yet still felt qualified to declare that Podliska had botched it, then demand that he resign.
When Podliska came forward to criticize the committee’s alleged flaws, Gowdy launched a counter-offensive, calling Podliska “a lousy employee” who “mishandled classified information” and smearing his criticisms as “a damn lie.” Did Gowdy know how absurd these accusations were? That will be a question for the jury. Podliska, a Republican who still plans to vote for the GOP, has requested a jury trial—but he isn’t asking for any money. Instead, he’s asking for “a declaration that Chairman Gowdy unlawfully defamed” him. Under the First Amendment, Podliska can only win this concession if he proves that Gowdy knew he was lying or acted with reckless disregard for the truth. Whether or not Gowdy intentionally defamed Podliska remains an open question. But Podliska’s suit has already amply demonstrated that Gowdy’s committee doesn’t have much interest in the truth.