Did Trey Gowdy make a reasonable offer — or push Hillary Clinton into a corner? Yesterday, the chair of the House Select Committee on Benghazi offered the former Secretary of State a path out of the scandal involving the intentional evasion of the Federal Records Act and the destruction of over 30,000 e-mails from the private server Hillary used to accomplish it. Come to Congress and testify under oath that none of the deleted e-mails had any connection to State business, Gowdy offered through USA Today’s Susan Page, and we’ll take Hillary at her word:
Oops — sorry, wrong video:
South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, who heads the House committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks that left four Americans dead, says he might be willing to accept assurances under oath from Hillary Clinton that she has provided all her relevant emails to the panel — dropping requests for an independent examination of her computer server.
“If she were, under some theory, able to say, ‘yes, I can promise you under penalty of perjury you have every single document you’re entitled to,’ that would probably shut off that line of inquiry,” he told Capital Download. “If she can, then it will be a short conversation.”
As Gowdy noted later, though, that probably wouldn’t work anyway:
That said, he raised some doubts about whether Clinton would be in a position to offer those assurances. “I think my first question would be, ‘Madame Secretary, with all due respect, how do you know that, because you’re not the one who went through the emails; your lawyer did,’ ” he says.”So your lawyer has a duty to you. Who with a duty to the public has been through your emails?”
In other words, it’s a trap — and Hillary knows it. Executive-branch officials of Hillary’s rank rarely if ever testify under oath, because (a) they’re usually testifying on more mundane issues in their departments and it’s unnecessary, and (b) they know better than to fall into perjury traps. In any event, the oath is not entirely necessary, since deliberately presenting false testimony to Congress is still a criminal act (one that would require the DoJ to enforce it, though), but taking the oath raises the stakes, both legally and politically.
It also presents a carte blanche to the committee, and not just on the e-mails. Even if Hillary thought she could resolve the e-mail situation by testifying under oath, the committee — whose scope is the Benghazi attack and the entire arc of security decisions in Libya, not just the e-mail evasion — would start peppering her with other questions relating to the investigation. Hillary couldn’t just switch from being under oath to not being under oath; even if that were possible legally, it would make it look like she’s hiding something in the rest of her testimony. It opens all sorts of perjury traps in a situation where Hillary’s been much less than honest for more than two years.
One solution for the issue about the e-mails would be to have it turned over to a third party. Yesterday, I attended a small meeting of conservative writers with House Speaker John Boehner, who much preferred that option to an outright House subpoena. Noting that the House hadn’t subpoenaed a physical object outside of documents since the Watergate probe, Boehner said that the proper party to take custody of the server was the State Department Inspector General. Byron York published part of the exchange yesterday:
Boehner does not want the House itself to search Clinton’s email system. “We have no interest in physically having the server,” he explained. “We think the Inspector General at the State Department is the right entity to look at the server, determine what’s private, what’s public and what’s mixed. They’ve got the ability to do that.” …
Nevertheless, Boehner does not want the House itself to conduct any searches of Clinton servers, if they actually exist at this point. “I just think it would be looked at as highly partisan,” Boehner said. “I just frankly think a third party is in a much better position to make this call than us.”
One issue is that the House didn’t grant authority to the select committee to issue such a subpoena. If all else fails, though, and Hillary Clinton won’t turn over the server, Boehner said that the House will act. “If need be, the House will do it [issue the subpoena].” In other words, while Boehner would prefer that Hillary cooperates by voluntarily turning the physical server to a third party — and it sounds as though Boehner would be willing to entertain a number of options for that choice — he’s not taking the subpoena off the table, either.
Here’s the full audio of the exchange:
The longer this drags out, of course, the more it will stretch into 2016. As Gowdy tells Page, the pace of the committee’s work is being driven by decisions made by the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton. If they want it wrapped up sooner than later, they’d better start making better decisions.