While discussing his new book, Watchdog: The Real Stories Behind the Headlines from the Congressman Who exposed Washington’s Biggest Scandals, with SiriusXM host Stephen K. Bannon of Breitbart News Daily, former House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) talked about the outcome of the congressional investigation into Benghazi, and how he might have handled things differently.
Issa said the end result of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which took over the investigation begun in the Oversight Committee, “wasn’t just rewarding; it was accurate,” although he had some reservations about the strategy of moving the case from Oversight to several different committees.
Issa praised Select Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy for his work, saying, “He got to the truth.”
“Did it take more time? Was it really an error to slip it off to a Select Committee, rather than to take a standing committee that was well in its way, that had already produced most of the evidence?” he asked. “Yeah, I think that might be a John Boehner decision that even John would do over, if he could.”
He said that House Oversight’s probe into Benghazi is extensively covered in his book, noting a key finding in which it was determined that “the Armed Services Committee, under Chairman Buck McKeon, he wanted to cover it up because he didn’t want the military to get blamed, when in fact, not one aircraft began moving toward the sound of the guns.” He added, “Not one soldier on the ground was allowed to move toward the sound of the guns. Ultimately, they were told to stand down.”
Issa spoke of several such defensive postures from various agencies and committees after Benghazi, describing a blame game that was only superficially glimpsed by the average news consumer. For example, he said the House Select Committee on Intelligence, then under Chairman Mike Rogers, “totally covered up, would not provide even the names of these individuals who were not CIA, but contractors who did not have classified information, but were war fighters, and they obstructed it.”
“So by the time the Select Committee was created, we had people like Martha Roby, who had reached an absolute decision on the subcommittee that the military did something wrong,” he said, referring to Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL). “Well, after almost two years, she was one of the most solid advocates for what was wrong, including that the African Command did not move. They wanted to, but they were obstructed by the inaction of the control at the State Department.”
Issa said the House Benghazi Committee’s report “makes the case for why oversight investigation is essential – when you see multiple parts of government that are not functional today, that do not do what they need to do to protect Americans around the world.”
Of course, these oversight battles are fought in media space, as well as in committee chambers. Issa conceded that Congress “has a bully pulpit of its own, but it’s smaller” than the one enjoyed by the White House.
A vital component of that bully pulpit is the rule, implemented by Democrats when they controlled the House, that “no individual, from the President through the Cabinet, can refuse a lawfully issued subpoena of Congress to appear.”
Here Issa’s praise for the House Benghazi Committee’s work became somewhat qualified, as he suggested committee Chairman Trey Gowdy did not issue subpoenas for public hearings as aggressively as Issa himself might have done.
“Did he use it a lot? Yes. Would a Darrell Issa, with a decade more experience – and, let’s just say, a few bruises from this administration – have used it more aggressively? Yes,” Issa said, wistfully looking back to bygone days when George Washington asked Congress to conduct oversight, a far cry from the current executive branch tendency to dismiss it as partisan warfare and frustrate investigations at every turn.
“Is it a phenomenon over time that we’ve become less transparent as a government – the government knows more about you, and you know less about them?” Issa asked. “Yes, but it’s never too late to rebalance things so that, in fact, the system works for the American people again.”
On the Clinton email scandal, Issa was concerned that “people have conflated her wrongdoing, her criminal activity, with the election.”
“You ask what I would have done different than my good friend, Chairman Trey Gowdy,” Issa said, adding:
The Select Committee has not officially ceased to exist. What I would have done – and I would have gotten pushback from my leadership – I would have said, “Well, wait a second here, Hillary Clinton.” According to the FBI director in his testimony before the Oversight Committee, my old committee, last week, said in no uncertain terms that Hillary Clinton lied to Congress. She said things that were untrue before that select committee.
“If I were running the Select Committee, or I were running the Oversight Committee, I would issue a subpoena to have Hillary Clinton come back and see whether she would A) correct her statement, B) lie again, C) take the Fifth,” he said.
“Does that focus what is really the case? It does. Her husband lost his bar license – forget about the impeachment, lost his bar license for the fact that he lied under oath,” Issa noted. He continued:
People forget that in spite of everything about Bill Clinton, the fact is he didn’t lie to Congress; he lied to a separate investigation. He was held in contempt, in the sense of an impeachment, but he is a convicted liar, if you will. She is not a convicted liar because they’re not gonna do it.
“The FBI director said she lied, and when asked about, ‘Are you going to investigate lying before Congress?’ he said he hadn’t been referred to it. Now, the last time I checked, the FBI doesn’t wait for a referral when they see a crime, unless they want to,” said Issa.
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