Politics or policy? Policy or politics?
Those were the questions posed to me by MSNBC's Chris Jansing Wednesday morning an hour before the curtain was due to go up on the hearings before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).
I said that it is always a combination of both.
Are Republicans in the U.S. House looking for an edge in the on-going battle with the Democrat-controlled Senate across the Capitol Building and the Democratic Administration down Pennsylvania Avenue?
Of course they are.
Does that mean the House hearings were frivolous? No.
On the other hand did anyone at the State Department, CIA, DoD, White House or MIB ever say "We've go to protect the boss on this" when the response to the raid on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya was being prepared?
Of course they did.
Does that mean the White House and Executive Branch worker bees responsible for trying to come up with a rational answer as to how a sitting Ambassador and three other Americans were killed in the raid were deaf, dumb, and blind to the facts?
What we do know is that by the time President Obama - and we have to assume he had been briefed by then - had approved sending U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice out on all five major Sunday talk shows to claim the raids were the result of the "Arab street" rioting over some movie trailer claiming to spoof the Prophet Mohammed, the Administration at least suspected the raid had been a planned attack, not random mob violence.
As to MIB's role? I don't know and you don't want to know either.
I was on MSNBC with former reporter and former spokesperson for the Department of Transportation Jill Zuckman.
Prior to going into our respective studios for our 4½ minutes of television fame and glory, we were discussing what an executive (like the President or a Cabinet Secretary) can reasonably be expected to know.
I made the point that there was no way for President Obama to know that it is estimated there were 26,000 cases of sexual abuse in the U.S. military in 2012. Maybe the SecDef couldn't have known that either. Maybe the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs couldn't have known. But SOMEbody should have known and passed the information up the line.
The "buck" only stops on the President's desk - any President's desk - when he knows there's a dollar bill in circulation looking for a home.
That covers Obama on the night of the attack, but it doesn't let him off the hook for the way his Administration responded to it.
Going back to Secretary Hillary Clinton's testimony on the attack, I believe it is now legit to view her anger and frustration not at the questioners - but borne of her knowledge that her Department had lied - or had orchestrated the lies of Susan Rice - to the American people.
Why? To protect the Obama campaign narrative that he had Al-Qaeda on the run and national security was not nearly as important an issue as whether or not Mitt Romney's dog liked riding on the top of the family car.
I have no idea where this will end up. It does not appear that it - in spite of many of your fondest wishes - rises to the level of impeachment of the President, but it may put an indelible stain on the reputation of Hillary Clinton.
Chris Jansing tried to press me (going back to the politics or policy question) as to whether House Republicans were on a witch hunt (my ironic phrase not hers) because Mrs. Clinton is such a "formidable candidate" for 2016.
I said that was exactly what people said about her in 2007 and "how did that turn out?"
There will be a couple of tip-offs as to whether this will have political (and policy) legs.
First, if Democrats begin to peel away from defending the Administration generally, and/or Hillary Clinton in particular about the way this was handled.
Second, if the press corps begins referring to it as: Benghzai-gate.
Off to do good works in Southern Africa with the ONE Campaign. I should be able to report from there more-or-less on our regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: A link to a column by National Journal's Ron Fournier on why this is important to Obama, and a posting by John Hudson on the Foreign Policy website on what we learned from Wednesday's hearing. Also a topic-appropriate Mullfoto.
Politics or policy? Policy or politics?