Clinton watch committee.

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Benghazi Committee's Lost Opportunity

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Plenty of new evidence surfaced over the weekend about how political the House Select Committee on Benghazi is. While everyone was shocked, shocked to hear that such a thing could happen in the House of Representatives, it's important to draw a distinction here. 

It's normal for congressional leadership to be aware of the electoral implications of continuing investigations, and to nudge committees toward politically fertile subjects. Republicans who are prepared to exploit these opportunities aren't even guilty of a political misdemeanor, let alone a felony.

But what isn't normal is setting up an open-ended select committee for the purpose of doing opposition research -- producing dirt -- on a presidential candidate, ignoring the stated purpose of the investigation.  This panel is barely pretending to do more than chase after Hillary Clinton. 

As the New York Times reported, the Benghazi Committee, whose chairman is Republican Trey Gowdy, essentially jettisoned its own agenda: 

The committee has conducted only one of a dozen interviews that Mr. Gowdy said in February he planned to hold with prominent intelligence, Defense Department and White House officials, and it has held none of the nine public hearings — with titles such as “Why Were We in Libya?” — that internal documents show have been proposed.

Gowdy says he can't investigate Benghazi without having access to Clinton's e-mails, but that claim isn't even slightly plausible. After all, no congressional oversight committee in U.S. history got all the information it wanted, but most of them managed to proceed regardless. Of course, most previous investigations didn't include a special committee set up to "investigate" something that had already been picked clean; everyone knew the Benghazi Committee was phony from the start, whether they admitted it or not. 

The correct way to go about oversight is to keep the process as bipartisan as possible, not only because it will produce better results but because the conclusions will be more credible to everyone. Then, if the hearings lead to findings that look bad for either political party, it's fair game to exploit them. 

Instead, the Benghazi Committee produces "facts" that can then circulate endlessly within the conservative information-feedback loop, no matter how discredited they are.

Meanwhile, the real work of executive-branch oversight remains sadly neglected. After all, that takes hard work and might yield better government. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net