The Cable

Cummings requests Petraeus testify under oath on Benghazi

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, has requested that former CIA director David Petraeus testify under oath in a new public hearing on Benghazi in a letter to Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA).

The request comes in response to Issa's recent remarks that Petraeus was pressured into toeing the administration line in the aftermath of last year's Benghazi attack. "David Petraeus said what the administration wanted him to say," Issa told NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday.

In the letter, Cummings challenges Issa to make those allegations to Petraeus's face. "These are some of the most serious charges you can make against our nation's top military and intelligence officials, and I believe the American people deserve to hear their responses in the same forum in which you made them -- a public hearing before our Committee," writes Cummings.

When asked if Issa would consider calling on Petraeus to attend a public hearing, Issa spokesman Frederick Hill left the possibility open, saying "We always welcome the minority to make suggestions." Petraeus's lawyer and Washington heavyweight Robert Barnett, who has handled media requests for the retired general in recent months, did not respond to a request for comment.

Interestingly, in this highly politicized investigation, it's not clear which partisan interest a Petraeus testimony would serve.

Many conservatives maintain that Petraeus was one of the few noble actors in the Benghazi mishap, a position that hardened yesterday after a report from ABC's Jonathan Karl, who quoted an e-mail by then-CIA Director Petraeus denouncing the edited State Department talking points as "essentially useless" at the time. "I would just as soon not use them, but it's their [the White House's] call," Petraeus said.

That's the Petraeus many conservatives have been begging to see testify. But it's not clear if that's the Petraeus conservatives would get.

For instance, this is how Rep. Peter King (R-NY) recalls a briefing with Petraeus days after the Sept. 11, 2012 attack. "The clear impression we were given [in September] was that the overwhelming amount of evidence was that it arose out of a spontaneous demonstration, and was not a terrorist attack," King told reporters in November.

Cummings, meanwhile, appears to be fed up with Issa's allegations that Petraeus, and other respected military and intelligence officials such as Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former AFRICOM chief, Gen. Carter Ham, acted either negligently or willfully became White House puppets after the attack.

"Over the past week, you and other Members of the Committee have accused these officials of withholding critical military assistance that could have saved American lives in Benghazi, intentionally misleading the American people about the attacks, and engaging in a cover-up to conceal their wrongdoing," writes Cummings.

The message being: Either say it to their face, or don't say anything at all.

The Cable

Not everyone is out to destroy Hillary Clinton all the time

In recent days, Foreign Policy's tally of the number of Hillary Clinton references during Wednesday's Benghazi hearing has become grist for politicians and reporters to extrapolate wider political truths about the House Oversight Committee investigation. In total, we counted 32 discussions of the former secretary of state in almost five hours of testimony. To many, this meant one thing: Republicans used the hearing to tarnish Clinton's leadership credentials -- a calculated early strike ahead of her anticipated bid for the presidency in 2016.

Here's Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on NBC's Meet the Press this morning:

My concern is when Hillary Clinton's name is mentioned 32 times in a hearing, then the point of the hearing is to discredit the secretary of state, who has very high popularity and may well be a candidate for president.

Here's Reuters' Patricia Zengerle on Thursday night:

Clinton is clearly a major focus of Republicans' attempts to get to the heart of what they believe is a national security scandal.

Foreign Policy magazine counted 32 separate discussions mentioning Clinton during Wednesday's hearing of the House Oversight Committee.

Here's Politico's Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman on Thursday afternoon:

Republicans now seem willing to cast the State Department response to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Libya as a referendum on Hillary Rodham Clinton's fitness to lead the country - and are abandoning a long-held hands-off-Hillary strategy rooted in her popularity with women of all races, ages and political stripes.

Clinton's name was invoked over and over during the hearing (a blogger for Foreign Policy counted 32 mentions) ...

Without a doubt, there's a strong incentive for Republicans to chip away at Clinton's record-high favorability ratings before the next presidential election and it would be naive to assume that many of the GOP questions were driven by altruistic intentions. But the number 32 is not evidence in and of itself of naked political opportunism.

For instance: Exactly half of the 32 references were made by Republican lawmakers. The other 16 originated from a combination of Democratic lawmakers and State Department witnesses.

While negative GOP remarks about Clinton outnumbered positive comments about her, the references to Clinton by Democrats -- some prompted by allegations made during the hearing, some not -- were universally favorable.

In this respect, a dispatch from the hearing by Roll Call Senior Editor David Drucker is instructive:

New York Democrat [Carolyn Maloney] opened her question time with a full throttled defense of Clinton, despite the fact that the former secretary of state's name had yet to arise in any meaningful way at that early point in the hearing. None of the witnesses had yet made comments that were particularly problematic for the possible 2016 presidential candidate. But Maloney's very deliberate remarks signaled that Democrats are sensitive to how the House GOP investigation into Benghazi might affect Clinton, regardless of its partisan overtones.

"I find it truly disturbing and very unfortunate that when Americans come under attack the first thing some did in this country was attack Americans, attack the military, attack the president, attack the State Department, attack the former senator from the great state of New York and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton," Maloney said, before going on to question the witnesses on the fact that the secretary of state's signature is included on all sorts of documents he or she never actually sees.

So let's not discount the reflexive Republican penchant to attack Clinton. But let's not give Democrats a pass on the reflexive penchant to defend her.