Fred Thompson | Investigating Benghazi: Why We Need a Select Committee

As we fixate on the latest version of Gen. David Petraeus’ testimony or the misleading statements of Susan Rice, I suggest that we stop and think about the size of what we are dealing with. The Benghazi tragedy raises questions concerning the protection of our embassies, the performance and capabilities of our military and our intelligence community, as well as the decisions of high-ranking officials in the Department of Defense, the State Department, the White House and possibly the Justice Department.

The scope of the questions that involve an array of officials, and sensitive agencies and departments of our government, is unprecedented. The inquiry into what happened and why, along with who is or should be accountable, calls for a focused, responsible effort equal to the seriousness and the complexities the issues.

I’ve seen this rodeo before, both in a constructive manner (Watergate, where I served as a counsel) and a less-than-constructive one (Clinton-era investigations, where I chaired a committee that probed at least one facet of the various scandals). On our present course, the prospects for a relatively short but thorough, credible, bipartisan congressional investigation are not good. The prospects for a disjointed, drawn-out mess, replete with partisan bickering, are much better.

It is easy to identify at least eight congressional committees (four in each chamber) with claims of jurisdiction in the Benghazi matter. No committee has jurisdiction over all of it, and several committees have jurisdiction over parts that overlap with the jurisdictions of other committees. Some of the committee hearings will involve classified information and will be conducted behind closed doors. Members of “Committee A” will not know what a witness told “Committee B” in a closed hearing. Gen. Petraeus’ recent appearance on Capitol Hill demonstrates how difficult it can be to get a consistent story when the witness is making multiple appearances before even the same committee.


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