This past Friday, Speaker John Boehner finally made a long overdue announcement, one we at Citizens United have been calling on him to make for over a year: The U.S. House of Representatives will soon vote to create a select committee to investigate the terrorist attack in Benghazi and its aftermath. Mr. Boehner’s decision to have Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), a former prosecutor, chair the committee is the right one.
Now that the process for a select committee has been set in motion, it’s critically important that the proper decisions are made in setting the panel up. Having served as an investigator for the Special Committee to Investigate Whitewater in the Senate and as chief investigator for the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, here are some points I’d like Chairman Gowdy to consider.
1) Timeframe. Conduct a thorough investigation and follow the facts where they lead. Do not agree to an arbitrary end-certain date for the committee, even if you have one in mind. The Democrats on the committee in conjunction with the White House will simply run out the clock using delay tactics.
2) Committee Make-Up. It’s been reported that the committee will consist of 12 Members (7 Republicans and 5 Democrats). That’s a positive sign if it’s accurate because fewer members are better. Too many members can create a snooze-fest at hearings. The American people want tough questions asked and answered; not never-ending opening statements and the same questions asked repeatedly. The select committee headed up by Congressman Chris Cox in the late 90’s had just nine members total.
3) Counsel Questioning. Allow for opening 30-minute rounds of questioning by chief counsels for both the majority and minority. By hiring a trusted former prosecutor-type to ask the initial questions at hearings, the committee chairman and members can deliver more effective questions and follow-ups.
4) Subpoena & Deposition Authority. Perhaps the most important decision will be the one to demand unilateral subpoena and deposition authority. If the committee has to vote on every single subpoena and deposition that is proposed, the investigation will become bogged down and cannot be successful.
5) Invoking The Fifth Amendment. Any individual who wishes to plead the Fifth Amendment should do it in person at a hearing before the American people.
6) Consult With People Who Have Been Here Before. Chairman Gowdy will do an outstanding job, but he should not set this committee up in a vacuum. Talking to current and former members, staff, and other experts who have gone down this road before is important, because the Democrats will certainly be doing so. The names Michael Chertoff, Louis Freeh, and Dan Burton come to mind.
With that being said, it’s time to get to work for the families of the fallen and the American people. The Gowdy Committee will finally give this investigation the attention and stature it so desperately deserves. They need to be prepared to fight every day. Committee Democrats and the White House will deploy every delay and distraction tactic at their disposal, including attacking the chairman’s credibility. As a standout member of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees, Chairman Gowdy has seen some of these maneuvers before, and he needs to be ready to deal with them as they come. Claims of work product, attorney-client and executive privilege will become the order of the day, and there will be many frustrating moments because of these obstruction tactics.
In the end, if the committee is set up to succeed, I trust that the truth will prevail and we’ll have some accountability restored in our government. I look forward to seeing the investigation get underway.