There was a moment, a little over three hours into Thursday's House Benghazi hearing at which Hillary Clinton is testifying, when something unexpected happened: Two of the Congress members on the committee started shouting at each other. Clinton, supposedly the focus of the day's hearing, just sat and watched.
The exchange was prompted by the Benghazi Select Committee's investigation into Clinton's now-infamous private email server. The committee found a lot of correspondence about Libya between Clinton and someone named Sidney Blumenthal. Blumenthal is a longtime friend and confidante of Clinton's — you can read all about it in Dylan Matthews's fabulous Blumenthal explainer. Republican Committee Chair Trey Gowdy, one of the speakers in the above video, subpoenaed Blumenthal, who ended up testifying before a closed-door session of the Benghazi committee.
During Clinton's testimony on Thursday, Republicans questioned her about getting information on Libya from Blumenthal. The implication is that Clinton was relying on one personal acquaintance with little specialized knowledge about Libya to set policy. If true, that would reflect poorly on Clinton's competence as secretary of state, but wouldn't really tell us more about the specific events surrounding the Benghazi attack.
Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, was clearly annoyed with the whole line of questioning. Cummings has long argued that the committee's investigation is a nakedly partisan endeavor to undermine Clinton's presidential campaign — including, it seems, the whole inquiry into the Blumenthal emails. In the above video, he calls for the committee to release the transcript of Blumenthal's closed-door testimony, which he suggests would exonerate Clinton from the implication that the relationship was in any way improper.
"We're gonna release the [Clinton] emails, let's do the [Blumenthal] transcript! That way the world can see it," Cummings shouts.
Gowdy says they can't vote on releasing the transcript during Clinton's testimony. Cummings says they can, because the House parliamentarian said so. Then they start yelling at each other about parliamentary procedure and what information should or shouldn't be released by the committee. It's all very inside baseball, and very strange.
But it's telling.
There have been eight investigations into Benghazi before the current select committee. As a result, there's not a lot of new information to go over. Arguments about the issue often descend into spats over semi-relevant minutiae, like Blumenthal's emails, because there's little else left to talk about.
But most of that material is boring, a sideshow, or both. Hence the spectacle we saw three hours into Thursday's hearing.