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Benghazi Hearing: Grandstanding or Fact-Finding?

Whether House Republicans can remain focused on eliciting real information and avoid political grandstanding is a major subplot of Wednesday morning’s Benghazi hearing.

Even under normal circumstances, members of Congress tend to do a poor job of using their question time to actually ask questions, and follow their initial questions with pointed follow-ups.

Members typically use committee question time to pontificate — especially if there are network television cameras in the room, as there will be when the House Oversight and Government Reform panel convenes to hear testimony from witnesses of the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The attack left Ambassador Christopher Stevens an three others dead. So it was interesting to read the transcript of an interview with Rep. Trey Gowdy.

The South Carolina Republican and former prosecutor told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt that he is concerned that House Republicans will waste the opportunity afforded to them by the hearing in light of recent revelations about what happened in Benghazi. He worries his colleagues will not focus on fact-finding, but on political point-scoring.

Gowdy has worked in recent days to educate his fellow Oversight and Government Reform members on the art of interrogation and develop a strategy for asking follow-up questions. He has urged his GOP colleagues to avoid giving speeches.

“So I have worked with, now, four of my colleagues whose backgrounds are not in litigation, how to ask these questions in a precise, pithy way that makes the witness the star and not some arm-flailing congressman who wants to be on YouTube,” Gowdy told Hewitt on Tuesday evening.

Meanwhile, Gowdy said he expects more revelations to come out of Wednesday’s hearing, based on information from the House Republicans’ joint committee investigation that he’s seen but has yet to be reported. Here are two key passages from his Tuesday interview:

Gowdy: “If we don’t pique people’s interest tomorrow, and prove to them that we’re serious, and that this is not a political exhibition, that we are disciplined and prepared, then there will be more hearings to come. So that’s why I’ve spent most of my time not only preparing myself, I get five minutes, but also preparing my colleagues who were not trial attorneys, and weren’t former prosecutors … tomorrow, the witness is the star. On cross-examination, the lawyer can be the star. But on direct examination, the witness is the star. And you need to ask a who, what, when, where, how question. You need to listen to the answer as you noted, follow up where appropriately. But there’s no substitute for preparation. It’s harder to give a five-minute speech than it is to give a five-hour speech, because you have to prepare.”


Gowdy: “My fear over the weekend was that a lot of the information that I thought would be most interesting tomorrow has already been released. So I went to staff, and I went to others, and said with any jury trial, you have to save something back. You have to be interesting on the day of the trial. And I have been assured, in fact, I know, because I’ve seen it myself, there’s going to be new, provocative, instructive, dare not use the word explosive, but there’s going to be information that comes out tomorrow that whether people have been so desensitized to government lying to them that they don’t care anymore, I cannot speak to that. But if you’re interested in Benghazi, there is going to be enough new material tomorrow to make you absolutely livid that it’s taken eight months for us to get to this point.”


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