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The GOP's Benghazi Committee Chairman Seems Unfamiliar With What Happened on the Day of the Attack

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

It's easy to imagine how someone who wasn't paying close attention to the news on September 11, 2012 might still be unaware that a bunch of stuff was happening in the Middle East outside of Benghazi that day. But the designated chairman of the inchoate House Select Committee on Benghazi shouldn't be one of those people.

And yet here's Trey Gowdy, gabbing away on MSNBC this morning:

"Well, how many people were harmed in the Middle East in that time period? The second goal or third goal of Ben Rhodes' memo was to bring countries to justice for harming our citizens. What other country could they be talking about? I mean what else was being discussed after September 11, 2012 other than Benghazi?"

Taking those questions in order: Many (assuming you count non-Americans as people); Egypt and Yemen, among others; and, outside right wing fever swamps, a lot.

The hosts of every morning news show Susan Rice visited the following Sunday made explicit references to and asked questions about both Benghazi and broader unrest in the Middle East. Administration officials including Rhodes prepped Rice to answer a whole range of questions, because there was more happening in the world that week than an attack in Benghazi alone.

Republicans claim a single, previously undisclosed email from Rhodes recatalyzed their Benghazi obsession, and so they're understandably at pains to dispute the White House's contention that officials withheld the email because it referred to a variety of crises, not just Benghazi. Gowdy focuses on the third bullet point in that email, which references "people who harm Americans," because the first bullet point—"the United States is doing everything that we can to protect our people and facilities abroad"—and the second bullet point—"these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy"—completely undermine his argument that the White House was single-mindedly obsessed with spinning away the attack in Libya.

But Benghazi has become such a totem on the right, that it's actually difficult to say where Gowdy's cynicism ends and self-deception begins. September 11, 2012 is Benghazi Day on the American right; its obsession with the attacks there has crowded all other events out of the history of that week, creating a widespread impression that nothing worth mentioning was happening anywhere else in the world. But senior Republican politicians are supposed to know the full score. And it's frightening how likely it is that the chairman of the Benghazi committee isn't intentionally misleading here, but has actually written the non-Benghazi events of September 11, 2012 and the days thereafter out of existence in his mind.