House Republicans: "Benghazi-Benghazi-Benghazi!" Translation: "Our party needs to start slashing Hillary Clinton's sky-high high poll approval ratings, or else we'll be toast in 2016."

The get-Hillary political campaign debuted yesterday on Capitol Hill, where Republicans desperately sought to pump air into a flat tire. Led by Darrell Issa, the car alarm magnate who chairs the House Oversight Committee, the GOP's congressional arm had promised that its hearing would be a breathless expose of how Clinton (and her boss) failed to provide adequate security at the embattled U.S. consulate in Libya, thus making her (and him) complicit in the deaths of four Americans.

Their promise was not fulfilled. Hey, what a surprise.

I get what they're trying to do. Clinton is viewed favorably by 67 percent of Americans, and the GOP is no longer viewed as the party best suited to conduct foreign policy. The GOP owned that "brand" for four decades - but in the 2012 exit polls, Barack Obama topped Mitt Romney by a whopping 56-33 percent among voters who listed foreign policy as their top priority. So naturally the Republicans need to slime Clinton specifically and the Democrats generally.

If only the Republicans who seem to hear "Benghazi" in their tooth fillings would've been remotely as vigilant when George W. Bush was marching us into the wrong war on specious WMD evidence, or when Bush was dragging his feet on the 9/11 Commission probe, then perhaps they would deserve to be accorded some respect on issues of national security. But that's all in the past. Here's where they are now:

They've been hyping Benghazi as bigger than Watergate, in the belief that then-Secretary of State Clinton refused to saddle up the U.S. cavalry in time for it to ride to the rescue. They promised that yesterday's "whistle blowers" would make that failure abundantly clear. Didn't happen.

"Pulitzer Prize fiction"

Star witness Gregory Hicks, the number-two diplomat in Libya on that tragic night last September, admitted in his testimony that the closest U.S. fighter jets were situated at our base in Aviano, Italy - too far away to help: "It would take two or three hours for them to get on-site." He also declined to dispute the judgment of the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, who has long insisted that the jets could never have arrived in time. He also declined to dispute the judgments of ex-Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen and career envoy Thomas Pickering, both of whom said much the same thing in their independent report on Benghazi.

By the way, Thomas Pickering - a three-time ambassador under Ronald Reagan - had sought to testify at the House hearing, but Issa refused to let him. Instead, Pickering went on TV yesterday: "The notion of a quote 'coverup' has all the elements of Pulitzer Prize fiction....The aircraft at Aviano were two to three hours away, and there was no refueling aircraft available....I think that speaks for itself....There should be no controversy over that."

It's understandable that Issa wanted to freeze out dissenting witnesses. After all, someone might've pointed out that House Republicans during the past two years have cut the State Department's requested embassy security budget by $361 million. In 2011, Hillary Clinton even warned House Republicans that their security cuts would be "detrimental to America's national security." Issa certainly didn't want the public to hear any of that.

Worse yet for Issa, it appears that some Republicans just haven't gotten the memo that Benghazi is a top-tier national scandal. On TV yesterday, here was Tennessee Senator Bob Corker: "I've been able to read all the cables. I've seen the films. I feel like I know what happened in Benghazi. I'm satisfied."

Goodbye, gotcha

But I've saved the best for last. On the hilarity scale, it outweighs anything from Louis C. K. I advise you not to read the few paragraphs while drinking coffee, unless you relish the sensation of hot liquid surging through your nose.

In advance of the hearing, chairman Issa said he had the smoking gun: Clinton's signature on an April 19, 2012 cable that acknowledged a request by the embassy in Libya for more security - but that the request would not be granted. Issa touted this on Fox News (natch), declaring that Clinton had personally screwed the embassy, that she "outright denied security, in her signature in a cable."

Um, hello? According to the State Department's foreign affairs protocol manual, it is standard practice for the State communications center to "place the name of the secretary on all telegrams to post."

Clinton "signed" hundreds of thousands of cables, yet personally saw (much less personally signed) only a miniscule fraction of them. She "signed" a cable that advised State e-mailers to "AVOID USING ALL CAPITAL LETTERS - IT IS PERCEIVED AS SHOUTING!!!" She "signed" a cable that listed the new phone numbers for embassy employes in the Republic of the Congo. And she "signed" the Libya security cable that would've been handled - as a matter of longstanding policy, under presidents of both parties - far below her pay grade.

So much for Issa's "gotcha." He did try to raise the issue yesterday with his star witness, but Hicks shot it down. Hicks confirmed that the secretary of state's signature appears on every State Department cable.

Of course, if you looked at Fox News yesterday, you learned that Hillary Clinton is dead meat in 2016, thanks to Benghazi. Talking head Andrea Tantoros, for instance: "Republicans are going to use this against her...She should be blown out of the water, any chance of her to run!" Yeah whatever.

I can't help but recall Geraldo Rivera's infamous TV documentary about Al Capone. This was in 1986. Geraldo said he'd found the gangster's secret vault, and promised to open it on live TV. He intimated for weeks that the vault would be stuffed with cash and other forms of lucre, maybe even the remains of bodies. Geraldo hired a medical examiner, in case there were bodies. He alerted IRS agents, in case there was money. The big night finally arrived. On live TV, Geraldo opened the door. The big revelation: a few empty bottles.

I assume you get the metaphor.

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