South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy’s Select Committee on Benghazi was faced with a dire threat to its reputation Tuesday: the presence of Rep. Darrell Issa of California. Issa showed up at the committee’s closed-door deposition of Hillary Clinton’s longtime confidant Sidney Blumenthal, which Issa was barred from attending since he is not a member of the committee. When Issa stepped into the room, according to the Hill, Gowdy hustled him into a nearby hallway and evidently would not allow him to re-enter. Issa stormed off, as depicted in this priceless Vine video from NBC producer Frank Thorp.
Turning Issa away was both a literal and symbolic move by Gowdy, who was put in charge of all things Benghazi by House GOP leadership a little over a year ago. Issa’s own investigations into Benghazi as chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform featured often bombastic hearings and created millions in government expenses while failing to produce tangible evidence to support his accusations against Clinton, including the charge that Clinton had ordered nearby American forces to “stand down” rather than defend the diplomatic outpost during the 2012 attack. Issa’s proceedings, while long on showmanship, risked turning the GOP’s complaints about Clinton’s handling of Benghazi into a joke.
The creation in May 2014 of a select committee on Benghazi was reportedly motivated by Republican leadership’s interest in presenting a united front on the issue amid multiple probes in various House committees. And when it was time to pick a face for the GOP’s inquisition, it wasn’t Issa that the party turned to: It was Gowdy, a relatively junior member of the caucus who rode to Washington on the red wave in 2010 after knocking out an incumbent Republican by attacking from the right.
The selection of Gowdy, a former prosecutor and rhetorically impressive interrogator whose name has been floated as a potential Supreme Court pick by presidential contender Sen. Lindsey Graham, was cheered by House conservatives and even by Issa, who was quoted by the Washington Post extolling Gowdy’s qualifications for getting to the bottom of the matter.
Speaker Boehner could not have chosen a Member more committed to getting the full truth about the before, during, and after of the Benghazi terrorist attacks. Trey has been an integral contributor to the Oversight Committee investigation and takes the knowledge we have gained, through subpoenas and individual testimony, to his new role leading the new Select Committee.
It’s possible that Issa, who relinquished chairmanship of the oversight committee in January, pictured a role for himself in the GOP’s contintuing investigation into Benghazi despite not having been included on the committee charged with the task. He also might not have expected to be publicly corrected by Gowdy, who has served only four years in the House, to Issa’s 14. Whatever his motivation for crashing Blumenthal’s deposition on Tuesday, Issa’s reaction to being booted from the hearing seems to indicate he’s not happy that the Benghazi party is going on without him.
Putting Trey Gowdy up front might be a good way to make Republicans’ continued investigation into Benghazi seem more serious, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the committee’s work has any more substance than Issa brought to the subject. Sidney Blumenthal, the subject of this week’s deposition, complained to NBC cameras outside the hearing that he’d been asked very little about Benghazi and instead questioned on his relationship with Clinton “going back all the way to the 2008 primary. ... It seems obvious that I was subpoenaed to appear before this committee for one reason and one reason only: politics.”