Advertisement

Column:: Benghazi, Sid-ghazi and Huma-ghazi: Can Clinton weather the storm?

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton meets with local residents at the Jones St. Java House in LeClaire, Iowa on April 14.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton meets with local residents at the Jones St. Java House in LeClaire, Iowa on April 14.

(Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

One of the biggest events in the 2016 presidential campaign will unroll in a quiet hearing room in Washington this week: Hillary Rodham Clinton’s long-awaited interrogation by the House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Benghazi.

Only it should probably be renamed the Select Committee on Clinton’s emails. The Republican-led investigation started by looking at the 2012 terrorist attack that killed four Americans in Libya’s second-largest city, but when that well began to run dry, it switched to a more promising target: Clinton’s decision to keep her official emails on a private computer system.

Even as Clinton has managed to hobble her own campaign, her Republican opponents have made themselves look ridiculous.

The result has been a competition among some of our finest politicians to see which side can make itself look worse.

Advertisement

Let’s start with Clinton.

When the emails came to light in March, she resisted her own advisors’ counsel to come clean. “We need to throw the facts to the dogs and let ‘em chew on it,” her campaign chairman, John Podesta, argued, according to Politico. But Clinton went into a defensive crouch instead.

She initially claimed that no classified material ever passed through her home-brew system; she had to amend that after the government found that several of the emails should have been marked “secret” but weren’t. She also claimed that she gave her emails to the State Department quickly, in response to a routine inquiry; that turned out to be untrue. In fact, she directed her lawyers to erase more than half the messages in her archive, without giving the government a chance to review them. (The FBI is trying to recover the 30,000 erased messages.)

Making matters worse, when she finally acknowledged that mistakes were made, her initial confession was grudging. “I am sorry that this has been confusing to people,” she said.

Advertisement

She succeeded mostly in making herself look evasive. No wonder her poll numbers plummeted, especially on whether voters considered her trustworthy.

So now the FBI is investigating whether a presidential candidate or her aides mishandled classified information, and whether any of Clinton’s messages were intercepted by foreign intelligence agencies.

Only one thing can save a politician from such serially poor judgment: enemies who are even clumsier.

Even as Clinton has managed to hobble her own campaign, her Republican opponents have made themselves look ridiculous.

Advertisement

TRAIL GUIDE: All the latest news on the 2016 presidential campaign >>

The House committee’s chairman is a smart and witty former prosecutor from South Carolina named Trey Gowdy. He has tried to make the investigation look as if it’s focused solely on finding the causes of the Benghazi tragedy, even though it’s the eighth congressional committee to pursue that question.

But in its search for new revelations, the committee has focused on a series of increasingly small targets.

Did Clinton political advisor Sidney Blumenthal feed the secretary bum advice to help his own business interests (Sid-ghazi)? Did Clinton lawyer Cheryl Mills err by keeping her day job at New York University while working without pay to help Clinton organize her office at the State Department (Cheryl-ghazi)? Did Clinton aide-de-camp Huma Abedin sin by working simultaneously for the State Department and the private Clinton Foundation (Huma-ghazi)?

Advertisement

This doesn’t sound much like Watergate yet. It’s more like the justly forgotten Whitewater.

And Gowdy has been incapable of preventing some of his Republican colleagues from blurting out the truth.

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said last month. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”

“I think that there was a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after people, and an individual: Hillary Clinton,” Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) said last week.

Advertisement

You can expect Clinton to quote both of those overly candid Republicans on Thursday — early and often.

A sensible Congress would step aside at this point and let the FBI probe Clinton’s emails, which would still give Republicans plenty of opportunities to tut-tut. Besides, the FBI has no reason to stop investigating until it’s satisfied that nobody mishandled classified material. Thanks to a court order, the State Department will continue releasing the candidate’s old emails in monthly batches well into election year.

As if that weren’t enough, action film director Michael Bay is finishing work on a movie about Benghazi, scheduled for release about two weeks before the Iowa caucuses in February. The trailer includes a clip of a distress call from the U.S. diplomatic compound — “We need immediate assistance!” — followed by a bureaucrat ordering American commandos to do nothing.

“It is like a drip, drip, drip,” Clinton sighed in a television interview last month. (In that case, her statement was dead-on accurate.)

Advertisement

In Gowdy, as Republicans like to point out, she faces a professional prosecutor. But by now, Clinton qualifies as a professional defendant. This won’t be her first time under hostile interrogation. The House GOP is pursuing a quarry with decades of experience in eluding — or merely waiting out — her opponents.

She won’t be out of the woods after this week’s hearing; the FBI, in particular, could still give her headaches. But in this week’s showdown, my money will be on Clinton.

doyle.mcmanus@latimes.com

Twitter: @DoyleMcManus

Advertisement

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion and Facebook


Advertisement
Advertisement