Why is Trey Gowdy allowing Hillary to testify behind closed doors?
When it was announced that Hillary Clinton was being asked to testify behind closed doors to Trey Gowdy’s committee investigating Benghazi, I assumed the veteran prosecutor had a strategy. The testimony will be under oath and taken down by a stenographer, so it will be on the record, but the American people will not be watching.
Perhaps the idea is to use the more relaxed environment to get Mrs. Clinton to open up? That hardly seems likely. More plausible is the notion that she will not have at her disposal demagogic tactics, such as her famous rant, “What difference, at this point, does it make?” – which seemed to cow her interrogators at the time, though it has taken on a life of its own as a defining moment for her.
But I think most probably, the closed-door interview will explore detailed and potentially tedious questions and get Mrs. Clinton on the record, under oath, for use when public testimony is later heard. Distractions in her defense offered by Elijah Cummings and other Democrats on the panel will have no effect on the public in these circumstances. But what she admits to (or denies) can then be read back to her in the public hearing, cutting to the chase, as it were. Especially if evidence is produced that contradicts her previous testimony under oath.
But perhaps I am too optimistic. Jed Babbin, writing in the Washington Times, takes a very different view:
There’s a much better strategy that would lay that foundational evidence before the public and get to at least some of the truth about the apparent cover-up of the Clinton-Obama actions in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack.
The first step would consist of two days of public hearings during which witnesses all testify under oath. The first witness should be Raymond Maxwell, a former State Department deputy assistant secretary for Near East affairs.
According to a September 2014 article by investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, a State Department document selection party was held on a Sunday by two of Hillary Clinton’s closest staffers, Cheryl Mills, Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff who had been a White House counsel defending Bill Clinton’s impeachment, and Jake Sullivan, Mrs. Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, who had worked on Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
The first day’s hearings would open with a morning of testimony by Mr. Maxwell, getting him to specify who was present, what they were doing and what he was told (and by whom) when he came upon that Sunday document “party” at the State Department. According to Ms. Attkisson’s report, the staffers who were busy separating documents had orders to separate anything that would embarrass the “Seventh Floor” — i.e., Hillary’s office — from materials that would be made available to the supposedly independent Accountability Review Board investigating Benghazi, or to Congress.
After that, the afternoon session could obtain the testimony of Ms. Mills and Mr. Sullivan, under subpoena and under oath, to get their statements on the facts of the Attkisson report and Mr. Maxwell’s testimony. Anyone who has done a cross-examination knows how to question hostile witnesses, as they surely will be. The questions would include: What orders did the document separators receive, and from whom? What did the orders say about specific categories of documents? What did you tell the staffers they were required to look for? What documents were separated out, and where are they now? And a lot more. If it takes going into or through the night, the session should continue until that line of inquiry is exhausted.
The second day would be Hillary’s turn to testify. She should also be subpoenaed and required to testify under oath. The morning session should get her testimony on all of the revelations of the previous day from Mr. Maxwell, Ms. Mills and Mr. Sullivan and on all of the other aspects of the Benghazi attack in the afternoon.
The afternoon session will be the key. Again, Mr. Gowdy’s Republicans must be prepared to cross-examine the most hostile witness they’ll ever question. Ms. Mills and Mr. Sullivan can be expected to evade and possibly lie. Hillary can be counted on to surpass the others’ skills doing the same.
Questions must include the background to the attack. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on Benghazi said there were about 30 terrorist groups operating in the city at the time of the attack. Why was Ambassador Christopher Stevens allowed to stay there? What was the CIA doing in Benghazi? Most important, what conversations or correspondence (ah, those emails again) flowed between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama — and among the other top people in the Obama administration — as the attacks unfolded?
I would certainly love to see such an approach taken. But I don’t know why it has to be taken first. I am not an experienced prosecutor, and as far as I know, neither is Babbin. Gowdy is. But he's also a politician, and they do have a way of disappointing us.