Back in October 2012, in the early days of what would ultimately be known as “Benghazi!!!,” our own Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz managed to blow the cover on a secret CIA operation headquartered at the Benghazi consulate compound during a hearing of the House Government Oversight Committee.
Commenting on the gaffe in The Washington Post, columnist Dana Milbank noted:
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) was the first to unmask the spooks. “Point of order! Point of order!” he called out as a State Department security official, seated in front of an aerial photo of the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, described the chaotic night of the attack. “We’re getting into classified issues that deal with sources and methods that would be totally inappropriate in an open forum such as this.”
Undaunted by assurances that stock satellite photos were on display, Chaffetz and his Republican colleagues continued to press on, ultimately forcing State Department officials to admit that a seven-member “rapid response team” that was on the scene was actually a CIA team operating out of the consulate.
This may seem like ancient history, but history is playing itself out again in the phony “scandal” that Republican Rep. Devin Nunes cooked up with his infamous memo. And, wouldn’t you know it, another Utah congressman is right in the middle of this controversy. But with a far worse outcome in the making.
Rep. Chris Stewart is a Republican member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the same Republican-controlled committee that released the infamous Nunes memo last week. The memo may excite right-wing partisans, but is full of misrepresentations, unsubstantiated innuendo and plain lying to make its points.
In the tortured narrative put forth in the Nunes memo, Carter Page, a one-time Trump campaign “energy adviser,” was the victim of a conspiracy involving at least five top FBI officials, a cadre of rogue agents using the controversial Steele dossier as their only evidence, a compliant Justice Department legal team that would rubber-stamp the alleged abuses and four separate FISA court judges who were either in on the plot or too stupid to realize they were being duped.
One small problem here. Rep. Trey Gowdy, the only Republican who has actually reviewed all the relevant intelligence, says there would have been an investigation into Russian election interference with or without the Steele allegations.
Chris Stewart knows all this. Or he should. Despite that, he was among the first Republicans to defend their decision to release the Nunes memo, over the strenuous objections of the FBI and the Department of Justice. Stewart’s justification for attacking the FBI, while vague at best, was a twisted definition of “transparency” as he tried to justify his lack of transparency with his vote to suppress the Democratic minority report on the Nunes memo.
What is transparent is that Stewart and his Republican cohorts are perfectly happy to give the president another chance to lie about the Russia investigations. Of course, the president took them up on the offer the very next day, claiming in one of his famous Twits that he has been vindicated by the release of the memo. Kind of gave the whole charade away, didn’t he?
So, Mr. Stewart, time’s up. Are you going to defend country and Constitution? Or a president who disgraces the country and the Constitution almost daily?
Kevin Turner is a retired journalist and television news producer who lives in North Salt Lake. He started his professional career as a copy editor and headline writer at The Salt Lake Tribune more than 40 years ago.