Hillary before Judges Like Tolstoy’s Pierre

Hillary Clinton at an earlier Benghazi hearing

Hillary Clinton at an earlier Benghazi hearing


Congress is supposed to use its investigative authority to discover the truth about urgent matters. After seven investigations, 13 hearings, and 50 briefings into the Obama administration’s response to the death of four Americans in Benghazi, however, it is clear that the latest committee has no more integrity than the French military tribunal in War and Peace that wants to sentence Pierre to death. The admission by soon-to-be Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy that the GOP’s real aim has been to bring down Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers has confirmed people’s suspicions. (Update: McCarthy has just withdrawn the race for Speaker, in part because of blowback for his frankness.)

Let’s remind ourselves that the investigations have revealed no evidence of a stand down order from the administration and no wrong doing. Yet still they continue.

When Clinton comes to testify before the current committee on October 22, I imagine her having a version of Pierre’s experience. Tolstoy notes that the French judges can only hear answers that flow in a channel leading to conviction. The “essence of the matter” is irrelevant.

Here’s the situation. Pierre, who has been vaguely wandering around a burning Moscow, is arrested after saving a woman from assault by a French soldier. He is accused of setting fires and brought before a court that questions “who he was, where he had been, with what object, and so on”:

These questions, like questions put at trials generally, left the essence of the matter aside, shut out the possibility of that essence’s being revealed, and were designed only to form a channel through which the judges wished the answers of the accused to flow so as to lead to the desired result, namely a conviction. As soon as Pierre began to say anything that did not fit in with that aim, the channel was removed and the water could flow to waste. Pierre felt, moreover, what the accused always feel at their trial, perplexity as to why these questions were put to him. He had a feeling that it was only out of condescension or a kind of civility that this device of placing a channel was employed. He knew he was in these men’s power, that only by force had they brought him there, that force alone gave them the right to demand answers to their questions, and that the sole object of that assembly was to inculpate him. And so, as they had the power and wish to inculpate him, this expedient of an inquiry and trial seemed unnecessary. It was evident that any answer would lead to conviction.

Yet the charade must be maintained if the verdict is to have general legitimacy. That is why McCarthy’s admission has been such a big deal. Without the aura of legitimacy, the investigation is seen by everyone as a power ploy by the GOP to bring down an opponent. Force alone gives them the right to demand answers to their questions.

But then, you already knew that.

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