Twenty years ago, the criminal case against O.J. Simpson ended in a not-guilty verdict. Believing in his guilt, I was always frustrated that prosecutors Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden didn't do a better job in their closing argument exposing the nonsense of the defense conspiracy theories. How could police, who had been depicted by Simpson's legal "dream team" as buffoons and worse, simultaneously be sufficiently sophisticated and competent enough to pull off the framing of the century?
Think about what that would have required. Awakened in the middle of the night with the unexpected news of the murder of Simpson's ex-wife and her friend Ron Goldman, Detectives Mark Fuhrman and Philip Vannatter and lead investigator Tom Lange (just to reference a few names from the past) would have had to immediately confer, hatch a plan to frame Simpson (not knowing what evidence existed!), and then carry out that mission. Preposterous.
I have the same reaction to the work of Republican members of the House Select Committee on Benghazi. In the last three years, Benghazi has been a synonym for a variety of attacks on President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Initially it was used to suggest that one or the other had refused to allow a military rescue of the imperiled Americans the night of the attack. It has also implied that Obama and/or Clinton personally refused to adequately protect Ambassador Chris Stevens. So rampant was this argument that when afforded the opportunity to question the president two weeks before the 2012 election, I asked him whether he knew of any request to increase security before the attack. ("You know, I was not personally aware of any request," he said in the Oval Office.)
The recent hearing was the perfect opportunity for the GOP to brandish its best theory. Republicans whiffed, as evidenced by the fact that by the time the hearing ended, Fox News had already cut away from live coverage, and the best that Matt Drudge could offer on his eponymous website was that, during her testimony, Clinton had coughed.
So I was somewhat surprised that night when Megyn Kelly opened her prime-time broadcast on Fox News by claiming that there had been "stunning new evidence" presented. She referred to Clinton having told family and foreign leaders immediately after the attack that it was not inspired by the infamous anti-Muslim movie, but rather that it was terror. This was brought forth in questioning by Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio).
While the Chelsea email might have been new, that the administration was saying contradictory things has been well-traveled, epitomized by Ambassador Susan Rice's appearance the Sunday after the attack on the morning shows. As this conspiracy theory lives on (Marco Rubio repeated it Thursday morning on CBS This Morning), let me try to do dismantle it in a way that the O.J. prosecutors did not.
First, here is the current theory, which I think I can outline more precisely in one (admittedly long) sentence better than the GOP members of the Benghazi committee did in 11 hours: Two months before the 2012 election, in a close race, the Obama administration was campaigning on having al-Qaeda on the run, and could therefore ill afford the public recognition of a terror attack in Benghazi, so a lie was concocted to blame a filmmaker, keeping the terror origin a secret.
Sounds intriguing. So why not?
First, while it is incontrovertible that the administration said different - conflicting - things in the days after an attack that claimed four American lives, there is nothing but circumstantial evidence to suggest the falsehoods were spread for political gain.
No email says that. No one with direct knowledge has said so. There's no word from a disgruntled staffer. And in a kiss-and-tell world, no book has been written. In other words, nothing directly contradicts Clinton's claim that this is attributable to the gleaning of information amid the fog of war.
Second, given that the attack occurred in the midst of the Arab Spring, contemporaneous with other violence, would Americans have really turned away from the Obama administration if Benghazi were known to be terror? Would it really have mattered to voters whether the inspiration was an anti-Muslim film or anything else? Well, we don't have to speculate - we know. By the time Americans voted, Benghazi was daily fodder, and voters knew it was a terror attack, but Obama still won.
Third, and most important, the idea that Clinton and company lied to cover up defies common sense. Clinton testified that she was home ("alone") the night of the attack. So let's game it out.
The attack occurred. She was notified. Government officials, including Clinton, were then supplied with information in real time as to the situation. According to the theory, she knew it was terror (after all, she emailed that to Chelsea). But, given her devotion to the Obama reelection, she made a calculated decision to lie to the world and instead spread a narrative that blames an American filmmaker.
Wouldn't she have feared contradiction? And in order for this to work, wouldn't others have been involved? President Obama? Susan Rice? This would have required immediate, significant, and secret communication (of the type the LAPD supposedly carried out the night O.J. Simpson killed his wife). And if the purpose was purely political, i.e., reelecting Obama, how can these political actors have controlled the intelligence community? The CIA lost two of its personnel in Benghazi. What would have made the politicians think - that night - that the CIA would cooperate with its false narrative, which could hinder the hunt for the real killers of their colleagues?
Still not convinced of the fallacy of this claim? Well what if in the following days the real (terror) culprits took responsibility, perhaps via a martyr video? Or if in the smoldering remains of the compound, there were the bodies of dead al-Qaeda whose presence would contradict the filmmaker narrative?
Knowing none of what was to come, is it really more likely that someone as sophisticated as Hillary Clinton would risk her own future desire to occupy the White House on such a lie to protect Barack Obama?
Michael Smerconish can be heard from 9 a.m. to noon on Sirius XM's POTUS Channel 124 and seen hosting "Smerconish" at 9 a.m. Saturdays on CNN.