Andrea Mitchell to Dem Congressman: 'Why Even Play the Game' of GOP's Benghazi 'Witch Hunt'?

At the top of her 12 p.m. ET hour MSNBC show on Thursday, host Andrea Mitchell proclaimed: "The Benghazi dozen, five Democrats now agreeing to join seven Republican inquisitors after failing to block the new Benghazi probe. Is it a witch hunt or a truth squad?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

In an interview that followed with Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, Mitchell wondered why Democrats would bother being part of the select committee investigating the scandal: "...why the decision by your caucus – and a divided caucus it was – you had your microphone cut off by [House Oversight Committee Chairman] Daryl Issa....you and others, I think, were against playing a role in what could be, you know, a real witch hunt, according to you....Why even play the game?"

That teed up Cummings to denounce the entire proceeding: "Well, the fact is, is that we do believe that it's probably a witch hunt. But the fact is, is we have to be in the room....we have seen the abuse that Mr. Issa...the way he performed....But we needed to be in the room because somebody has to be the defender of the truth. And somebody has to challenge the untruths in a very effective way."

Mitchell did challenge Cummings on reports that Hillary Clinton pressured Democrats to join the committee in order to protect her reputation as secretary of state: "Hillary Clinton's people, who are obviously involved and concerned about where this is going, wanted the Democrats to play a role, wanted you in the room. Did you communicate with Hillary Clinton representatives? Or anyone from that team?"

Cummings quickly dismissed the notion before again slamming Republicans:

No, no. I believe that – let me be clear – I believe that Secretary Clinton can fend for herself. And – but the thing I'm also concerned about is when the Republicans under Issa would bring witnesses and present them before us that we never had any access to, and then, if they are allowed, Andrea, to say things and it not be challenged. In other words, that there is not a search for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, there's a problem. So it's better to be in the room.


Here is a transcript of the May 22 exchange:

12:00 PM ET TEASE:

ANDREA MITCHELL: The Benghazi dozen, five Democrats now agreeing to join seven Republican inquisitors after failing to block the new Benghazi probe. Is it a witch hunt or a truth squad? We'll ask Congressman Elijah Cummings, the Democrats' point man on the committee.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: I believe we need someone in that room to simply defend the truth. Defend the truth. And that is why I've agreed to serve.

12:08 PM ET SEGMENT:

(...)

MITCHELL: And we of course want to ask you about Benghazi, why the decision by your caucus – and a divided caucus it was – you had your microphone cut off by Daryl Issa, your chairman of the committee on which you serve, the Oversight Committee – and Adam Schiff and you and others, I think, were against playing a role in what could be, you know, a real witch hunt, according to you. It's a seven – it's dominated by seven Republicans. Why even play the game?

CUMMINGS: Well, the fact is, is that we do believe that it's probably a witch hunt. But the fact is, is we have to be in the room, Andrea. Two major things, you've got – we have seen the abuse that Mr. Issa, Chairman Issa, the way he performed, not allowing us to have records, surprising us with witnesses and things of that nature. But we needed to be in the room because somebody has to be the defender of the truth. And somebody has to challenge the untruths in a very effective way.

And so, although it may – we may not like the idea that it's going on, we have to be in the room. I think the American people want us to have a transparent, fair evaluation of the situation. And that's what we intend to do, to hold the Republicans to a standard.

I'm still trying to figure out what the purpose of it is, this special committee, because we have had now an ARB report. We've had two bipartisan Senate reports. We've had the four reports coming out of the House. And even the Armed Services ranking member said basically enough is enough. And so, I'm going to be meeting with Mr. Gowdy very shortly – and this is news for you, Andrea, it's hot off the press – be meeting with him very shortly and we're going to be going over what the aim of the committee is and what questions we're trying to answer.

MITCHELL: Well, one question that comes to mind is that there was a Politico report today that Hillary Clinton's people, who are obviously involved and concerned about where this is going, wanted the Democrats to play a role, wanted you in the room. Did you communicate with Hillary Clinton representatives? Or anyone from that team?

CUMMINGS: No, no. I believe that – let me be clear – I believe that Secretary Clinton can fend for herself. And – but the thing I'm also concerned about is when the Republicans under Issa would bring witnesses and present them before us that we never had any access to, and then, if they are allowed, Andrea, to say things and it not be challenged. In other words, that there is not a search for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, there's a problem. So it's better to be in the room.

MITCHELL: One other question. Allen West, a former member of Congress and now a Fox contributor, has questioned the loyalty of Tammy Duckworth, who's one of the members for this committee, said that he wonders where her loyalties lie. I just wanted to get your response. Tammy Duckworth, of course, a double amputee for having served in Iraq.

CUMMINGS: You know what? You know, it doesn't even deserve a response. He should be ashamed of himself and I'll make that very clear and if I see him, I'll tell him that. I look at Tammy and I know of all of the things that she's been through. And sometimes, Andrea, she comes in that hearing room in her wheelchair and struggling, struggling just to get to her seat. And somebody to have the audacity to say something like that, upsets me to the nth degree.

MITCHELL: Elijah Cummings, I know you will follow up, thank you very much.

CUMMINGS: Oh, I will.

MITCHELL: Thanks, Congressman.

CUMMINGS: Alright.

MITCHELL: Thanks for being with us today.

CUMMINGS: Thank you.

MITCHELL: On a busy day on Capitol Hill.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC