Why the Benghazi committee matters

Clinton's use of a private email system and possible mismanagement of classified information are important security failures.

Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyThe Hunter Biden problem won't go away Sunday shows preview: Joe Biden wins the 2020 election Sunday shows preview: Election integrity dominates as Nov. 3 nears MORE (R-S.C.) made an important statement Sunday about the work of his special committee investigating the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were murdered.

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Gowdy told "Face the Nation" that his committee is not targeting presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGroups seek to get Black vote out for Democrats in Georgia runoffs Biden's political position is tougher than Trump's Valadao unseats Cox in election rematch MORE (D). This statement was needed in the aftermath of the embarrassing and unfortunate comment by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyTop Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' Sunday shows preview: Biden transition, COVID-19 spike in spotlight MORE (R-Calif.), a brief contender for Speaker, that the committee was formed to drive down Clinton's poll numbers.

Gowdy, in the days leading up to Clinton's testimony before his committee yesterday, put the focus back on Clinton, and what she knew and when she knew it about the Libyan attack and the many different answers Clinton and the administration have given to explain away their bad judgment in sending Stevens into a deadly situation.

According to Clinton, Stevens was responsible for his own security and, presumably, his own death. This is Clinton-speak: It makes sense if you are a Clinton and live inside Washington. I do not, however, believe that it will sell outside the Beltway. If Clinton is elected president, her Cabinet members should have sufficient funds for their personal security.

The distorted Clinton logic on Benghazi is important for American voters to hear. There will be more of it in a Clinton administration.

I was at State Department meetings when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced the Special Committee on Benghazi. My State colleagues sounded their support for Clinton, whose Foggy Bottom memoir, Hard Choices, gave her version of events on Benghazi. That was then.

Gowdy's committee, which he chairs, made a significant finding that Clinton kept a secret email operation off State Department premises. This amateurish system may have been hacked — perhaps even by terrorist sources for information on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and Stevens's schedule. Clinton's deleted emails may be technologically restored to tell a damaging tale about her handling, or mishandling, of the matter.

The work of the Benghazi committee is needed if its findings can help prevent future killings of U.S. diplomats. Security at U.S. diplomatic posts may be imposing to those who do business at the, but a strong security presence is needed, though, so the work of America can be done safely.

Technology can and should be used to lessen both manpower and diplomatic infrastructure to save lives, improve efficiency and the delivery of services abroad. American embassies should not be ominous fortresses, but technologically friendly places conducive to effective diplomacy. This is another important aspect of Gowdy's committee. It is also an area Clinton and the Obama administration, based on discovery of Clinton's outlandishly amateurish email arrangement, seem not to understand. Technology should be used to advance diplomacy and not to muddy it.

Clinton's use of a private email system and possible mismanagement of classified information are important security failures based on her decision to conduct her State Department business in this manner. Gowdy's committee and the American people have the right to know if Clinton's poor decision to use such a shoddy system contributed to American deaths. This is important to U.S. diplomacy, the operation of the State Department, and portends actions that might affect Clinton's ability to serve as president and effect decisions that could endanger more American lives.

Clinton’s many explanations of why she used a private email system raise uncomfortable comparisons to former President Bill Clinton's parsing of "what the definition of 'is' is," his labored and false explanations about Monica Lewinsky. Would Hillary Clinton's presidency be similar?

Bill and Hillary Clinton have many political and leadership qualities the American people admire. Clinton is putting these skills to work internationally with his Global Initiative.

But the Clintons, based on their eight years in the White House, and Hillary Clinton's email scandal, also have their critics. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a fellow candidate for the Democratic nomination, is wrong: the American people are not tired of hearing about Hillary Clinton's email controversy. They may be tired of Hillary Clinton.

The email scandal may be, as The Washington Post's Bob Woodward suggests, of Watergate proportions. Gowdy should pursue it until he is convinced the truth is known about Stevens's death.

It is Clinton-speak and Clinton Logic for Hillary Clinton to suggest that Rep. Gowdy call the late Ambassador Stevens before the committee for him to explain this mess. She must explain it in a way the American people can understand, and time is running out. 

Patterson is a longtime Washington diplomat and a Bay Area contributor.