Jay Carney: I don't know if we'll cooperate with the Benghazi select committee

Lot o’ strategizin’ happening today vis-a-vis the committee, and not just on the GOP side. Greg Sargent hears from a source on the Hill that Pelosi and company are trying to decide whether to boycott.

A House Dem leadership aide points out that there is precedent for such a boycott. Back in 2005, House Dem leaders declined to participate in GOP hearings into what went wrong with the Bush administration’s response to the Katrina disaster, arguing that Republicans had set up the committee in a way that ensured it would not conduct a serious probe into what happened.

The House Dem leadership aide notes that Dems are looking at their 2005 response as a possible model on how to respond to the new Benghazi committee, though no decisions have been made.

“There is deep concern in the Caucus that participation in this sham committee, like the 2005 Katrina committee, would serve to legitimize what has and by all signs will continue to be a political operation,” the Dem leadership aide tells me.

Steny Hoyer told Politico today that they haven’t decided what to do yet. I made the case for why boycotting is smart-ish in the last post; if your goal is to delegitimize the proceedings, there’s no clearer way to make that point (especially to your friends in the media, who undoubtedly share your contempt for this) than to skip it entirely. The counterargument is that the average low-information voter watching soundbites of the day’s hearings at 10 p.m. on cable either won’t know or won’t care about the boycott. All he’ll know is that Trey Gowdy is pounding the table and seems utterly convinced that there’s a cover-up, and that the witness he’s grilling seems shifty and nervous. If you’re a Dem, maybe it’s better to have people on the committee pounding the table about what a farce this all is so that the news networks have something for the “counterpoint” part of the soundbite highlight reel.

What Democrats are really trying to do right now, I think, is calculate the odds that there’s something hugely damaging out there that might be uncovered by the committee — in other words, the odds that the GOP’s been right about Benghazi all along. Looks to me like they’re 90 percent sure that this’ll be a nothingburger, but that remaining 10 percent carries a big risk. Namely, if they participate in the committee, spend three weeks screeching that it’s a sham and an insult to the president, and then a smoking gun turns up, they’ll be as humiliated as Obama is. That’s another reason to boycott, to keep their distance not only from a committee that their base finds dubious but to keep their distance from any findings that might truly hurt O. Or would their absence actually backfire by signaling to the public that they didn’t care enough to find the truth? Political actors don’t like uncertainty and Pelosi’s dealing with a lot of uncertainty right now.

Exit question for legal eagles: What would it mean for the White House to not “cooperate” with the committee? I assume that means claiming executive privilege over documents that Gowdy wants, which has worked so far in other contexts to hinder GOP investigations but would look awfully shady in this case, especially with the White House bleating that this is all much ado about nothing. Would they, or could they, refuse to send witnesses too? Even Kerry and Hillary routinely appear/appeared before Congress. It’d look suspicious if the key players suddenly clammed up now.

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