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Special Books Edition: An Interview with Bradley Podliska, Author of Fire Alarm: The Investigation of the U.S. House Select Committee on Benghazi

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This topic of this special episode of the Understanding Congress podcast is a recent book by a former Hill staffer. It is titled Fire Alarm: The Investigation of the U.S. House Select Committee on Benghazi (Lexington Books, 2023)

The author is Bradley F. Podliska is an Assistant Professor of Military and Security Studies at the U.S. Air Force Air Command and Staff College in Montgomery, Alabama.

Brad is a retired U.S. Air Force Reserve intelligence officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was deployed to Iraq in 2008 and also worked as an intelligence analyst for the Department of Defense.

Dr. Podliska is a former investigator for the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Benghazi. He is the author of two books, and that latter experience working on the Hill formed the basis for his book, Fire Alarm: The Investigation of the U.S. House Select Committee on Benghazi.

Kevin Kosar:

Welcome to Understanding Congress, a podcast about the first branch of government. Congress is a notoriously complex institution, and few Americans think well of it. But Congress is essential to our republic. It is a place where our pluralistic society is supposed to work out its differences and come to agreement about what our laws should be.

And that is why we are here: to discuss our national legislature and to think about ways to upgrade it so it can better serve our nation. I am your host, Kevin Kosar, and I’m a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington DC.

Professor Podliska, welcome to the podcast.

Bradley Podliska:

Thank you, Kevin, for having me. I appreciate being here.

Kevin Kosar:

You were an investigator for the House of Representatives. I introduced you as a professor, but you had on-the-ground experience inside Congress as an investigator for the House of Representatives. For audience members who have never heard of that position, what do House investigators do? And how did you get to that position?

Bradley Podliska:

Investigators are another term for subject matter experts, usually based on their executive branch experience. The role of an investigator is to interview witnesses, request documents, analyze those documents and then provide new information back to the members for the committee so they can conduct their investigation. Now with that said, the titles when it comes to the Benghazi Committee were completely and totally arbitrary. Attorneys had “counsel” in their title and if you were a non-attorney, you either had the title of investigator, professional staff member, or advisor, but we all did the same work. So we were all analyzing documents, we were all interviewing witnesses, and then we were reporting the results to the committee members.

In my particular case, I spent 17 years in the intelligence community and the Defense Department, and I knew someone that had known the Republican staff director of the Benghazi committee for over two decades. So I submitted a resume and I was hired soon thereafter, and this is a point I actually make in my book Fire Alarm, which is that you're basically hired on perceived party loyalty. I refer to this as a non-compensatory dimension. In other words, merit is a secondary condition. You might be the best person for a job, but if you are not perceived as a partisan, you are not going to be hired in the first place. This is done is through those personal connections that I talked about. I am not aware of any staff member that was hired on the Benghazi committee that either did not have prior Capitol Hill experience or did not know somebody on the committee itself.

Kevin Kosar:

And that should—for listeners who have heard some of the other podcasts I have done on the Congressional Research Service, Congressional Budget Office, Government Accountability Office—that is a very different thing from what happens at those legislative branch support agencies. Over there, it is a nonpartisan hiring process, based on merit, and once they are hired, they are tenured for life once they get through their one-year trial period to make sure that they are a right fit for the job. It is a very sharp contrast.

This committee that employed you—we will call it the Benghazi Committee, since the title is rather long—was not the same thing as the typical standing committees, the ones that have lasted forever (e.g., the Agricultural Committee or the Armed Services Committee). Where did this thing come from? How was it created and how was it different from the usual Congressional Committee?

Bradley Podliska:

That is certainly correct. This was a Select Committee and it was established through a resolution for the purpose of investigating a particular issue. The resolution is going to detail the power and authority that a Select Committee has, and—unlike a Standing Committee—it is not limited to a particular subject area.

Now when it comes to the Benghazi attack, the government had actually conducted 11 prior investigations prior to the setup of the Benghazi Select Committee. The FBI had conducted an investigation. The State Department and County Review Board had conducted an investigation. There were five House committees and four Senate committees that had conducted investigations.

The Benghazi Select Committee in particular was forced into being by an outside group referred to as Judicial Watch. On April 29, 2014, they obtained an email from Obama advisor Ben Rhodes via a FOIA request. And in that email, Rhodes is going to tell Ambassador Susan Rice that she should emphasize that the attacks were, “rooted in an internet video and not a broader failure of policy.” This email forced then-Speaker Boehner—who at the time did not want to set up a Select Committee—to hold a vote on May 8, 2014 to establish the Select Committee on Benghazi. It's going to be given a mandate: nine investigatory tasks that it's going to look to when it comes to the 2012 Benghazi attacks, which boil down to why did the attack happen, how the Obama administration respond to the attack, and did the Obama administration stonewall Congress in its prior investigations.

Kevin Kosar:

What did this special committee look like? Was it a lot of staff working for it? Was it a sprawling operation or was this a tight-knit group of people?

Bradley Podliska:

It was a small staff—24 staff members in total: two press secretaries, two executive assistants, security manager, and the interns. Arguably, there was a 25th member, who was actually a reporter. The committee would link information to this reporter and she would publish the results of this. So, you know, de facto 25. However, of this 25, there was only 15 staff members who could be identified as actually being actively involved in the investigative work of the committee. This included the staff director, the deputy staff director, the chief counsel, and 12 investigators, counselors, and advisors.

Kevin Kosar:

I think it is easy for people—when they hear committees—to think about what they see on TV, which is a bunch of legislators sitting at a dais with maybe a staffer or two lurking in the back, and a clerk tapping out notes of what is going on. But that is not all the people power involved.

How often were legislators working with the staff, poring through documents? What percentage of that time were they there doing that hard work?

Bradley Podliska:

In general, very, very little. Now this did vary from member to member. I actually looked at this in Fire Alarm, so I can say that Representatives Jim Jordan, Lynn Westmoreland and Trey Gowdy were actively involved in investigation. They were attending those witness interviews, and getting briefed on a regular basis. But then we have Rep. Peter Roskam on the opposite side. He only attended four high profile interviews in total. I think I saw him for a total of maybe one staff meeting, so simply not involved.

The day-to-day activities of the committee are actually done by the staff. You are going to tee up that information for the committee members and it is up to them on what they are going to do with it. We can get into details on Rep. Roskam’s Clinton hearing, what it looked like in terms of not being prepared. But generally speaking, it varied greatly between the members.

Kevin Kosar:

It is a good reminder of the old quip by Woodrow Wilson, 120 some years ago, that Congress at work is Congress in committee—staff in Committee; that is Congress at work.

Early in your book, you ask—and this is a driving question for Fire Alarm—how did a committee devoted to researching a terrorist attack on a US compound in Libya turned into a conflictual partisan operation. How did that happen?

Bradley Podliska:

My central claim in Fire Alarm is that both Republicans and Democrats actually use these taxpayer-funded congressional investigations as an arena to mount political attacks for electoral advantage. This actually stems from institutional changes under Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995. He made committee chair selection subject to a secret party vote and subjected committee chairs term limits, replacing the seniority factor that had been in prior. He set task forces that allow an alternative legislative path to committees. He cut the committee staffs by a third, effectively limiting the expertise available. He also removed the minority party from deliberations.

In terms of the Benghazi committee itself, as I said, Speaker Boehner did not want to set up the committee. His hand was forced by the conservatives, and so when the hiring process was initially completed, it was going to do a check the box investigation. That is up until March 2, 2015, when The New York Times published an article that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used private email. After that, and up to her hearing on October 22, 2015, the investigation is going to kick into high gear going after Hillary Clinton to the exclusion of investigating the White House, intelligence community, or Defense Department.

One example of that is the committee issued 26 press releases about Clinton, three about the State Department, but absolutely none about the White House, Defense Department, or our intelligence community. The committee is going to direct 15 of its 27 document requests towards the State Department, including five for Clinton herself.

Here are a few other examples. The committee is going to produce 74,306 pages of documents; 72,343 of those pages came from the State Department. It interviewed 107 witnesses; only three of those were from the White House. It conducted 24 Defense Department interviews; 19 of those interviews are going to occur in the last four months of the actual investigation itself.

Kevin Kosar:

Not only was Hillary Clinton the Secretary of State, but she considered as the leading candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2016. And what happened in Benghazi became a vehicle of embarrassment and referendum on her confidence. Her use of private email was also remarkable and problematic because a) you are not supposed to do that and b) there are classified information policies that the executive branch and as the leader of an executive agency you are responsible for ensuring that those are obeyed.

What other background factors that should listeners know about?

Bradley Podliska:

Certainly, that is going to change completely the course of the investigation because this now becomes about Clinton's emails. Did she cause a problem and bring the attention onto herself? Arguably, yes. And, as it turned out, she had the private server set up in her basement of her house which added fuel to the fire.

With that said, the investigation goes into high gear and goes after her. Nobody is taking responsibility and now it appears that Clinton is hiding things. This is going to add, as I said, fuel to the fire.

Kevin Kosar:

You noted that, when Newt Gingrich was the Speaker in the 1990s, there were alterations made to the way the House operated. This was the first time that the Republicans had gained control of the House in four decades, and they were putting things under new management: changing how the House works and they were making it a little more parliamentary in nature. It was much more kind of becoming a team sport exercise. When you are the majority, you stick it to the minority. You vote with the team. Do not cross the aisle unless you absolutely have to. And so you describe these kind of forces that have been building up over the years.

But was it inevitable? The Benghazi hearings that were just so polarizing and got so ugly, it did not have to end up that way, did it?

Bradley Podliska:

No, absolutely not. And so, going back to my earlier claim, you are hiring party loyalists to conduct this investigation, and these are not necessarily going to be the subject matter experts. They are getting their direction from Speaker Boehner's office on how to conduct this investigation. And so, one of the points I make in Fire Alarm is it is evident to me that nobody actually read the witness interview transcripts after they were completed. They put together this report kind of anecdotally, and in doing so they missed key factors that actually were more incriminating on Clinton than they actually found.

Kevin Kosar:

So in the rush to bloody up a member of the opposite party and the person who would become the next candidate to run for the presidency, essentially the truth got lost along the way.

Bradley Podliska:

Absolutely. In my book, I talk about a key interagency meeting at 7:30 PM on the night of the attacks. Clinton—as the senior official—is going to lead this meeting, and this groupthink mentality takes place that Ambassador Stevens has been taken hostage. This is going to lead the military to making a whole bunch of other mistakes and delay in their response for Ambassador Stevens.

Instead of looking for all information that was available to her, including contradictory information, Secretary Clinton read a note at the meeting, saying Ambassador Stevens has been taken hostage. Now, we know this is completely and totally untrue. This was a very well planned, well-organized terrorist assault, which later goes on to the CIA annex. But the military is going to follow her lead and basically execute a plan for hostage rescue and assume they had more time than they did, and the CIA annex does not even come into their equation when it comes to the rescue. Also at this meeting, a narrative is going to take hold—also based on absolutely no evidence—that this attack was due to an anti-Islamic video. Jake Sullivan is going to write talking points from this meeting that are going to show up on the Sunday talk shows five days later where Susan Rice is going to make the infamous comments that this all being due to a video that had gone awry.

Kevin Kosar:

It is a popular amongst voters to imagine that there are great and complex conspiracies that are being carried out by nefarious people in high places and that they are very intricate and coordinated, and they can last for decades. That is not what happened here.

What we end up with is clusters of people playing a rough partisan game, crafting narratives on the fly to some degree to suit their priors and purposes, adjusting them along the way, sometimes just making up stuff outright. All the while, the media is running around and having some sort of interplay with it. It is a messy scene.

Bradley Podliska:

That is exactly right. You cannot have a conspiracy when incompetence is the answer. Officials are doing their best, but not entirely. Other officials such as Ben Rhodes and Jake Sullivan are getting involved and putting a partisan spin on this. And the Republican investigation is all in on Clinton but not looking at the White House, Defense Department, or intelligence community.

We just have incompetence built on top of incompetence. There is no conspiracy theory to be had here. It simply comes down to people failed and people failed to take responsibility.

Kevin Kosar:

This is why books like yours are so important, because there was so much noise being made around this whole phenomenon of what occurred in Benghazi. It was a blur of confusion to anybody trying to follow it from the outside. So much information coming out and so much stuff you did not know if it was true or not true. For somebody to go back, write a history, put everything together, and try to explain how it played out, where the facts were, and where the fantasy was is a huge service. We can all learn something instead of being caught in the myths that were spun at the time.

You ended up leaving the committee before the whole hullabaloo was done. Why? What happened?

Bradley Podliska:

This is actually quite interesting. I talked about Newt Gingrich and how he had fundamentally changed Congress in 1995. He is actually going to pass the Congressional Accountability Act. And included in that is employment law—what is referred to as USERRA—meant to protect reservists that go on military service. So right as The New York Times story is breaking, literally that day, I notified the committee I had to go on military leave on two periods, once in March and then again in May.

I came back and staff leadership is not talking to me, they were not giving me an investigative work. It turned out they were very upset that I had gone on leave and that I had not shifted to this hyper-focus on Clinton when I returned. About a month later, they called me in the office, they told me to resign or be fired. I, in turn, filed a USERRA complaint. The whole thing blew up in the media.

When it...

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46 episode

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Manage episode 409980577 series 2833439
Konten disediakan oleh AEI Podcasts. Semua konten podcast termasuk episode, grafik, dan deskripsi podcast diunggah dan disediakan langsung oleh AEI Podcasts atau mitra platform podcast mereka. Jika Anda yakin seseorang menggunakan karya berhak cipta Anda tanpa izin, Anda dapat mengikuti proses yang diuraikan di sini https://id.player.fm/legal.

This topic of this special episode of the Understanding Congress podcast is a recent book by a former Hill staffer. It is titled Fire Alarm: The Investigation of the U.S. House Select Committee on Benghazi (Lexington Books, 2023)

The author is Bradley F. Podliska is an Assistant Professor of Military and Security Studies at the U.S. Air Force Air Command and Staff College in Montgomery, Alabama.

Brad is a retired U.S. Air Force Reserve intelligence officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was deployed to Iraq in 2008 and also worked as an intelligence analyst for the Department of Defense.

Dr. Podliska is a former investigator for the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Benghazi. He is the author of two books, and that latter experience working on the Hill formed the basis for his book, Fire Alarm: The Investigation of the U.S. House Select Committee on Benghazi.

Kevin Kosar:

Welcome to Understanding Congress, a podcast about the first branch of government. Congress is a notoriously complex institution, and few Americans think well of it. But Congress is essential to our republic. It is a place where our pluralistic society is supposed to work out its differences and come to agreement about what our laws should be.

And that is why we are here: to discuss our national legislature and to think about ways to upgrade it so it can better serve our nation. I am your host, Kevin Kosar, and I’m a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington DC.

Professor Podliska, welcome to the podcast.

Bradley Podliska:

Thank you, Kevin, for having me. I appreciate being here.

Kevin Kosar:

You were an investigator for the House of Representatives. I introduced you as a professor, but you had on-the-ground experience inside Congress as an investigator for the House of Representatives. For audience members who have never heard of that position, what do House investigators do? And how did you get to that position?

Bradley Podliska:

Investigators are another term for subject matter experts, usually based on their executive branch experience. The role of an investigator is to interview witnesses, request documents, analyze those documents and then provide new information back to the members for the committee so they can conduct their investigation. Now with that said, the titles when it comes to the Benghazi Committee were completely and totally arbitrary. Attorneys had “counsel” in their title and if you were a non-attorney, you either had the title of investigator, professional staff member, or advisor, but we all did the same work. So we were all analyzing documents, we were all interviewing witnesses, and then we were reporting the results to the committee members.

In my particular case, I spent 17 years in the intelligence community and the Defense Department, and I knew someone that had known the Republican staff director of the Benghazi committee for over two decades. So I submitted a resume and I was hired soon thereafter, and this is a point I actually make in my book Fire Alarm, which is that you're basically hired on perceived party loyalty. I refer to this as a non-compensatory dimension. In other words, merit is a secondary condition. You might be the best person for a job, but if you are not perceived as a partisan, you are not going to be hired in the first place. This is done is through those personal connections that I talked about. I am not aware of any staff member that was hired on the Benghazi committee that either did not have prior Capitol Hill experience or did not know somebody on the committee itself.

Kevin Kosar:

And that should—for listeners who have heard some of the other podcasts I have done on the Congressional Research Service, Congressional Budget Office, Government Accountability Office—that is a very different thing from what happens at those legislative branch support agencies. Over there, it is a nonpartisan hiring process, based on merit, and once they are hired, they are tenured for life once they get through their one-year trial period to make sure that they are a right fit for the job. It is a very sharp contrast.

This committee that employed you—we will call it the Benghazi Committee, since the title is rather long—was not the same thing as the typical standing committees, the ones that have lasted forever (e.g., the Agricultural Committee or the Armed Services Committee). Where did this thing come from? How was it created and how was it different from the usual Congressional Committee?

Bradley Podliska:

That is certainly correct. This was a Select Committee and it was established through a resolution for the purpose of investigating a particular issue. The resolution is going to detail the power and authority that a Select Committee has, and—unlike a Standing Committee—it is not limited to a particular subject area.

Now when it comes to the Benghazi attack, the government had actually conducted 11 prior investigations prior to the setup of the Benghazi Select Committee. The FBI had conducted an investigation. The State Department and County Review Board had conducted an investigation. There were five House committees and four Senate committees that had conducted investigations.

The Benghazi Select Committee in particular was forced into being by an outside group referred to as Judicial Watch. On April 29, 2014, they obtained an email from Obama advisor Ben Rhodes via a FOIA request. And in that email, Rhodes is going to tell Ambassador Susan Rice that she should emphasize that the attacks were, “rooted in an internet video and not a broader failure of policy.” This email forced then-Speaker Boehner—who at the time did not want to set up a Select Committee—to hold a vote on May 8, 2014 to establish the Select Committee on Benghazi. It's going to be given a mandate: nine investigatory tasks that it's going to look to when it comes to the 2012 Benghazi attacks, which boil down to why did the attack happen, how the Obama administration respond to the attack, and did the Obama administration stonewall Congress in its prior investigations.

Kevin Kosar:

What did this special committee look like? Was it a lot of staff working for it? Was it a sprawling operation or was this a tight-knit group of people?

Bradley Podliska:

It was a small staff—24 staff members in total: two press secretaries, two executive assistants, security manager, and the interns. Arguably, there was a 25th member, who was actually a reporter. The committee would link information to this reporter and she would publish the results of this. So, you know, de facto 25. However, of this 25, there was only 15 staff members who could be identified as actually being actively involved in the investigative work of the committee. This included the staff director, the deputy staff director, the chief counsel, and 12 investigators, counselors, and advisors.

Kevin Kosar:

I think it is easy for people—when they hear committees—to think about what they see on TV, which is a bunch of legislators sitting at a dais with maybe a staffer or two lurking in the back, and a clerk tapping out notes of what is going on. But that is not all the people power involved.

How often were legislators working with the staff, poring through documents? What percentage of that time were they there doing that hard work?

Bradley Podliska:

In general, very, very little. Now this did vary from member to member. I actually looked at this in Fire Alarm, so I can say that Representatives Jim Jordan, Lynn Westmoreland and Trey Gowdy were actively involved in investigation. They were attending those witness interviews, and getting briefed on a regular basis. But then we have Rep. Peter Roskam on the opposite side. He only attended four high profile interviews in total. I think I saw him for a total of maybe one staff meeting, so simply not involved.

The day-to-day activities of the committee are actually done by the staff. You are going to tee up that information for the committee members and it is up to them on what they are going to do with it. We can get into details on Rep. Roskam’s Clinton hearing, what it looked like in terms of not being prepared. But generally speaking, it varied greatly between the members.

Kevin Kosar:

It is a good reminder of the old quip by Woodrow Wilson, 120 some years ago, that Congress at work is Congress in committee—staff in Committee; that is Congress at work.

Early in your book, you ask—and this is a driving question for Fire Alarm—how did a committee devoted to researching a terrorist attack on a US compound in Libya turned into a conflictual partisan operation. How did that happen?

Bradley Podliska:

My central claim in Fire Alarm is that both Republicans and Democrats actually use these taxpayer-funded congressional investigations as an arena to mount political attacks for electoral advantage. This actually stems from institutional changes under Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995. He made committee chair selection subject to a secret party vote and subjected committee chairs term limits, replacing the seniority factor that had been in prior. He set task forces that allow an alternative legislative path to committees. He cut the committee staffs by a third, effectively limiting the expertise available. He also removed the minority party from deliberations.

In terms of the Benghazi committee itself, as I said, Speaker Boehner did not want to set up the committee. His hand was forced by the conservatives, and so when the hiring process was initially completed, it was going to do a check the box investigation. That is up until March 2, 2015, when The New York Times published an article that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used private email. After that, and up to her hearing on October 22, 2015, the investigation is going to kick into high gear going after Hillary Clinton to the exclusion of investigating the White House, intelligence community, or Defense Department.

One example of that is the committee issued 26 press releases about Clinton, three about the State Department, but absolutely none about the White House, Defense Department, or our intelligence community. The committee is going to direct 15 of its 27 document requests towards the State Department, including five for Clinton herself.

Here are a few other examples. The committee is going to produce 74,306 pages of documents; 72,343 of those pages came from the State Department. It interviewed 107 witnesses; only three of those were from the White House. It conducted 24 Defense Department interviews; 19 of those interviews are going to occur in the last four months of the actual investigation itself.

Kevin Kosar:

Not only was Hillary Clinton the Secretary of State, but she considered as the leading candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2016. And what happened in Benghazi became a vehicle of embarrassment and referendum on her confidence. Her use of private email was also remarkable and problematic because a) you are not supposed to do that and b) there are classified information policies that the executive branch and as the leader of an executive agency you are responsible for ensuring that those are obeyed.

What other background factors that should listeners know about?

Bradley Podliska:

Certainly, that is going to change completely the course of the investigation because this now becomes about Clinton's emails. Did she cause a problem and bring the attention onto herself? Arguably, yes. And, as it turned out, she had the private server set up in her basement of her house which added fuel to the fire.

With that said, the investigation goes into high gear and goes after her. Nobody is taking responsibility and now it appears that Clinton is hiding things. This is going to add, as I said, fuel to the fire.

Kevin Kosar:

You noted that, when Newt Gingrich was the Speaker in the 1990s, there were alterations made to the way the House operated. This was the first time that the Republicans had gained control of the House in four decades, and they were putting things under new management: changing how the House works and they were making it a little more parliamentary in nature. It was much more kind of becoming a team sport exercise. When you are the majority, you stick it to the minority. You vote with the team. Do not cross the aisle unless you absolutely have to. And so you describe these kind of forces that have been building up over the years.

But was it inevitable? The Benghazi hearings that were just so polarizing and got so ugly, it did not have to end up that way, did it?

Bradley Podliska:

No, absolutely not. And so, going back to my earlier claim, you are hiring party loyalists to conduct this investigation, and these are not necessarily going to be the subject matter experts. They are getting their direction from Speaker Boehner's office on how to conduct this investigation. And so, one of the points I make in Fire Alarm is it is evident to me that nobody actually read the witness interview transcripts after they were completed. They put together this report kind of anecdotally, and in doing so they missed key factors that actually were more incriminating on Clinton than they actually found.

Kevin Kosar:

So in the rush to bloody up a member of the opposite party and the person who would become the next candidate to run for the presidency, essentially the truth got lost along the way.

Bradley Podliska:

Absolutely. In my book, I talk about a key interagency meeting at 7:30 PM on the night of the attacks. Clinton—as the senior official—is going to lead this meeting, and this groupthink mentality takes place that Ambassador Stevens has been taken hostage. This is going to lead the military to making a whole bunch of other mistakes and delay in their response for Ambassador Stevens.

Instead of looking for all information that was available to her, including contradictory information, Secretary Clinton read a note at the meeting, saying Ambassador Stevens has been taken hostage. Now, we know this is completely and totally untrue. This was a very well planned, well-organized terrorist assault, which later goes on to the CIA annex. But the military is going to follow her lead and basically execute a plan for hostage rescue and assume they had more time than they did, and the CIA annex does not even come into their equation when it comes to the rescue. Also at this meeting, a narrative is going to take hold—also based on absolutely no evidence—that this attack was due to an anti-Islamic video. Jake Sullivan is going to write talking points from this meeting that are going to show up on the Sunday talk shows five days later where Susan Rice is going to make the infamous comments that this all being due to a video that had gone awry.

Kevin Kosar:

It is a popular amongst voters to imagine that there are great and complex conspiracies that are being carried out by nefarious people in high places and that they are very intricate and coordinated, and they can last for decades. That is not what happened here.

What we end up with is clusters of people playing a rough partisan game, crafting narratives on the fly to some degree to suit their priors and purposes, adjusting them along the way, sometimes just making up stuff outright. All the while, the media is running around and having some sort of interplay with it. It is a messy scene.

Bradley Podliska:

That is exactly right. You cannot have a conspiracy when incompetence is the answer. Officials are doing their best, but not entirely. Other officials such as Ben Rhodes and Jake Sullivan are getting involved and putting a partisan spin on this. And the Republican investigation is all in on Clinton but not looking at the White House, Defense Department, or intelligence community.

We just have incompetence built on top of incompetence. There is no conspiracy theory to be had here. It simply comes down to people failed and people failed to take responsibility.

Kevin Kosar:

This is why books like yours are so important, because there was so much noise being made around this whole phenomenon of what occurred in Benghazi. It was a blur of confusion to anybody trying to follow it from the outside. So much information coming out and so much stuff you did not know if it was true or not true. For somebody to go back, write a history, put everything together, and try to explain how it played out, where the facts were, and where the fantasy was is a huge service. We can all learn something instead of being caught in the myths that were spun at the time.

You ended up leaving the committee before the whole hullabaloo was done. Why? What happened?

Bradley Podliska:

This is actually quite interesting. I talked about Newt Gingrich and how he had fundamentally changed Congress in 1995. He is actually going to pass the Congressional Accountability Act. And included in that is employment law—what is referred to as USERRA—meant to protect reservists that go on military service. So right as The New York Times story is breaking, literally that day, I notified the committee I had to go on military leave on two periods, once in March and then again in May.

I came back and staff leadership is not talking to me, they were not giving me an investigative work. It turned out they were very upset that I had gone on leave and that I had not shifted to this hyper-focus on Clinton when I returned. About a month later, they called me in the office, they told me to resign or be fired. I, in turn, filed a USERRA complaint. The whole thing blew up in the media.

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