The mainstream media declared the Benghazi story insignificant long ago. To the extent it is covered, the focus is usually on the horrific and unnecessary deaths of four Americans. The Obama administration dismisses it as a lot of fuss about a few silly talking points.
But everybody is missing the big-picture story of the Benghazi affair and its cover-up. It’s about the White House using the intelligence community for its own political purposes, and lying to the American public in order to win an election. It’s about abuse of power, and that is a big deal.
That’s why the administration cannot be allowed to investigate itself. That’s why it is time for Congress to appoint a special committee to get to the bottom of the story.
If it turns out that Benghazi and the cover-up were just a series of junior level mistakes, that is the end of it. But if it turns out the administration was using the military and intelligence communities for political purposes prior to the attack, during the attack and in a subsequent cover-up, it must be held accountable. Because once the precedent is set, future administrations will feel no reluctance to do the same.
America has the most powerful military and intelligence services in the world, probably in the history of the world. They have an infrastructure that endures separately and beyond any administration or politician.
At the same time, the military-intelligence complex takes its orders from the American people, through their elected/appointed representatives in the White House and Cabinet.
It’s a sacred trust at the heart of our Constitution, as set out in civilian control of the military. But it comes at a price – that our civilian leaders do not abuse that power and bend the military and intelligence communities to do their political dirty work.
The president doesn’t order the military to seize political opponents. He doesn’t order his intelligence community to lie about national security for political purposes. He uses the military or intelligence communities to protect the United States and our citizens, not to help him win elections.
That’s the heart of the Benghazi scandal and cover-up. The White House twisted intelligence to suit its political needs.
I was part of the Nixon administration during Watergate. I was a junior staffer on the National Security Council and helped keep the classified files. At the heart of the Watergate investigation was the president’s abuse of power – secretly using the intelligence community for political purposes and then using the intelligence community for cover when it became public.
It was a difficult time for the nation, and certainly for anyone in the White House. But it was necessary, especially in hindsight. It wasn’t just about a president lying to the American people. It was a check on the seemingly unlimited power of the president to use the military and civilian career government bureaucracy for his own political goals.
It is now incumbent on the congressional leadership to act. There have been countless hearings into Benghazi by numerous congressional committees, but none have had subpoena power to demand the paper trail, or to force government workers to testify about what they knew and when they knew it.
The questions at the heart of the Benghazi scandal and cover-up are specifically:
1. Did the White House fail to provide adequate security at the Benghazi consulate because it didn’t want to acknowledge that a terrorist threat remained, even though Bin Laden was dead?
2. Did the White House order the intelligence community to change its analysis so the president could claim his policy was a success, rather than a failure, just a few weeks before an election?
3. And, finally, what was the relationship between an overzealous White House staff and the president himself? What did the president know, and when did he know it?
This is no longer just a political issue. It’s not just a partisan witch hunt. It goes to the heart of what our system of government is all about. That’s why it’s time for Congress to act and create a bipartisan special committee to get to the bottom of this, once and for all.
That’s why Benghazi matters.
Kathleen Troia "K.T." McFarland is a Fox News National Security Analyst and host of FoxNews.com's "DefCon 3." She served in national security posts in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations