Like a pair of investigative bookends, two bipartisan congressional reports arrived this year -- one from the Senate Intelligence Committee released in January, the other by the House Intelligence Committee in late November. Both came to similar conclusions about the 2012 terror attack on the United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi. And both represented bad news for conservative cheerleaders of the Benghazi cover-up saga, as the tandem reports released enormous amount of air from the scandal balloons.
The Senate report in January did little to quench the political thirst of hardcore Benghazi believers. Its findings, which categorically demolished the most closely-held beliefs of Benghazi true-believers, didn't stop House Republicans from establishing a select committee in May to launch yet another investigation. (Six congressional committees and an independent State Department panel had already investigated the attack, for those keeping score.) That select committee holds its second hearing this week.
The more recent House report however, does seem to have produced a sense of creeping panic among dedicated partisans who remain committed to keeping the story alive through the 2016 presidential campaign. The House findings run so counter to what Benghazi promoters have claimed that they threaten the viability of that strategy.
And that's why, in a truly odd turn of events, the Republican-authored House report is now under withering attack from a cadre of Republicans and their allies in the right-wing media ("a classic Washington whitewash"!), who've logged thousands of hours over the last two years propping up the shaky cover-up tale and trying to turn it into a Barack Obama scandal brand.
"The House Select Committee on Benghazi has stated that it will reconvene on Dec. 10. Its work will be as important as ever," the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal announced this week (i.e., questions remain!). The Weekly Standard agreed, with its writers reporting that the latest Congressional report that debunked every major Benghazi conspiracy to date, simply confirms that Congress needs all the Benghazi investigations it can get.
Why? "This new Benghazi 'intelligence' report is little more than a C.Y.A. attempt designed to protect incompetent politicians and government agents at the expense of justice for the victims of September 11, 2012," according to Sen. Rand Paul.
This, of course, is the language of dead-enders. It's the language of partisans with stunted capacity for reason and who won't concede the facts on the ground. Instead, they tumble further and further down into a rabbit hole of what-ifs, spending extraordinary time (and taxpayer money) trying to undermine the facts while proclaiming the next inquiry will get it just right.
In other words, a Republican-chaired committee report that debunks Benghazi conspiracies is now being used as a rallying cry for conservatives who are convinced the report raises more pressing questions.
Do you see where this closed, hermetically sealed loop is designed to lead us?
In criticizing the report, note that since the release of the report from the House Intelligence Committee, conservative critics need to find an explanation for why its Republican chairman, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), allegedly opted to tank his own committee's year-in-the-making report; why he would authorize a "messy," "bizarre and troubling" report. Did he do it protect the White House and Hillary Clinton?
Is Rogers now part of the cover-up, too?
But the ruse isn't going to work in the long run because the facts remain immovable. "A report released late Friday about the fatal 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, left Republicans in the same position they have been in for two years: with little evidence to support their most damning critiques of how the Obama administration, and then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, responded to the attacks," the New York Times reported late last month.
More (emphasis added):
Similar to five other government reports, the one released by the House Intelligence Committee on Friday said that the administration had not intentionally misled the public about what occurred during the attacks in talking points it created for officials to use in television appearances that turned out to be inaccurate. It also said that no order was given by the military to "stand down" in responding to try to save the four Americans killed in the attacks, a claim that Republicans have made based on the account of a member of the security team in Benghazi that day.
The report said the C.I.A. did not have an "intelligence failure" in the months before the attacks.
For a refresher from Media Matters research, what did the Senate report conclude in January?
-No Effort By Obama Administration To Cover-Up Or Alter Facts
-No Evidence Of A "Stand Down" Order
-No "Tactical Warning" Predicting An Attack
Talk about a Congressional one-two punch.
But when up becomes down, when evidence creates more "questions," when reports that debunk conspiracy theories are used by advocates as proof more inquiries are needed, it becomes impossible to reason about the established facts. Or in this case, it has become impossible to make sense of what conservatives pretend the facts to be.
Even back in the 1990s, when the entire Republican agenda seemed to revolve around ending President Bill Clinton's presidency via "scandal" investigation, I don't think we ever hit a phase during the Whitewater waste of money where Clinton's partisan foes were reduced to arguing that Republican members of Congress were in on the White House cover-up, and that's why the "truth" remained so well hid for years.
And by the way, there continues to be zero evidence that Benghazi stands as a major 2016 political hurdle for Hillary Clinton, who served as Secretary of State at the time of the attack. In fact, a new poll this week found "Americans overwhelmingly see her tenure as Secretary of State as an advantage," as the Washington Post's Greg Sargent noted.
No matter. Professional Benghazi promoters are so far underground at this point, dashing between scandal warrens, that they've lost sight of the reality. Everybody, it now seems, is on the cover-up.
Crossposted at Media Matters.