Hillary Clinton went to Capitol Hill on Thursday to give her much-awaited public testimony to the special House committee investigating the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, three years ago. The Republican chairman says he wants to know why more wasn't done to protect them.
The pundit class has been fixated for weeks with the committee's alleged partisan motivations and its implications for Clinton's presidential campaign. But the committee convened more than a year ago, and most people are just catching up on what it does every day.
So we boiled it down to the four things that you absolutely need to know about the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
So far the Benghazi committee has cost taxpayers $4.8 million. That's more than the annual budgets of the permanent committees on intelligence, veterans affairs, ethics, and small business. Staffers hired for the committee are being paid as much as $172,500 a year.
It’s gone on forever, but it's not a record breaker—yet.
The committee's investigation has lasted longer than many other temporary select committees, including those established to investigate the response to Hurricane Katrina, the Kennedy assassination, the Iran-Contra scandal, and Pearl Harbor, and the Church Committee’s 1970s investigation into the intelligence community. Clinton’s campaign has called it the longest-running special committee in history, but, as Politifact points out, several select committees took longer, including the committee to investigate the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The 9/11 commission took 19 months to produce a report, a milestone that the Benghazi committee will reach in early December.
It’s eclipsing real national security news
On Thursday, President Barack Obama will veto the National Defense Authorization Act—only his fifth veto, and possibly the most consequential. The House has essentially eliminated caps on defense spending put in place by the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester, while keeping in place other caps from those same cuts. For years the act has been considered must-pass legislation, and its perfunctory reauthorization has been a way to sneak through massive military budgets without much debate. On a normal day, the veto would be the biggest national security story in the country, but on Thursday it will be eclipsed by Benghazi, including its focus on who sent which emails on which servers.
No one shows up for it
Despite the high profile of Thursday's hearing, most of the committee's hearings and interviews aren't even attended by the people on the committee. Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat on the committee, accused Republican Chairman Trey Gowdy himself of having missed 47 of the first 53 interviews. Republican staffers have accused Democrats of similarly poor attendance. Last week the Washington Examiner reported that longtime Clinton staffer Huma Abedin testified before a "mostly empty" committee during her closed-door interview. In other words, members only show up when the cameras are on.