Dems Accuse Benghazi Panel of Sabotaging Clinton
Democrats on the House panel investigating the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack accused Republican members Wednesday of deviating from the original schedule of hearings involving former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, arguing the action amounts to a political hit job on the frontrunner for the 2016 presidential nomination.
Citing information provided to Democratic staff on the House Select Committee on Benghazi by Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), Democrats said the committee planned to hold nine hearings by this date in 2015.
Only one hearing has been held. The committee has instead used closed-door meetings and interviews to gather information.
“The Select Committee has not only postponed its hearings with Secretary Clinton and other State Department witnesses, but it has abandoned all of its other hearings as well, including those examining other agencies like the Department of Defense and the CIA,” the panel’s Democrats wrote in a letter to Gowdy.
They claim that Gowdy has yet to formally request the testimony of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates or former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta, and that the committee “has not conducted a transcribed interview or deposition of even a single Defense Department employee.”
They argue it is “difficult to understand” why Republicans would claim the committee’s “glacial pace” is because of Clinton and the State Department.
“These actions by the Select Committee – which lack any legitimate basis – serve only to delay its worth further into the election season and subject it to increasingly widespread criticism for its highly partisan actions,” the Democrats wrote.
The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), has in the past accused Republicans of using the committee to damage Clinton’s White House bid. Democrats leveled the charge again Wednesday.
“It appears that much of the Select Committee’s work has been shelved while Republicans pursue every possible avenue of political attack against Secretary Clinton,” they added.
Republicans responded swiftly to the allegations. Jamal Ware, the committee’s communications director, called the exchange a “one-way letter war,” and said the panel’s GOP members have always been focused on gathering the substantive facts regarding the Benghazi attack, rather than “responding to Democrats’ missives.”
According to Ware, the committee has scheduled witness interviews from multiple government agencies and will continue to do so. That process, he said, is being hindered by document requests regarding emails exchanged between Clinton and her senior staffers. Those requests have thus far gone unfulfilled, Ware said.
“These private interviews provide the committee a more productive means of getting information than public hearings,” Ware said. “…We are interested in the facts, not the drama.”
Wednesday’s back-and-forth is the latest flare-up between the two sides in recent weeks. Last month, the committee made public 60 emails exchanged between Clinton and former close adviser Sidney Blumenthal. Democrats called on Gowdy to release the transcript from Blumenthal’s nine-hour deposition in order to put the emails “in proper context,” but Gowdy said there is no precedent for such an action.
It was later revealed that Clinton never turned over 15 of the 60 emails to the State Department as part of the 55,000 pages she gave to the department last December.
Ware said the committee has put the recent spotlight on Clinton “to try to recover relevant portions of what should have been her public record.”
“We would not be here had she not found it convenient to keep her emails on her server for more than 20 months and only then to wipe it clean after the committee came asking for records,” he added, a claim Clinton has categorically denied.
The State Department has been releasing Clinton’s emails on a “rolling” basis upon reviewing them, as ordered by a federal judge in May. The first batch of messages revealed that senior Obama administration officials knew that Clinton was using a personal email address during her tenure as the nation’s top diplomat.
A Democratic congressional source defended the State Department in an interview with RealClearPolitics, arguing that the department has spent its time undertaking more paramount issues such as the Iran nuclear deal “as the committee seeks to take up more of their bandwidth with a political charade.”
“We are pointing out the political nature of an investigation that has gone on longer than the investigation into the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the Watergate probe,” the source added.
Clinton has vigorously defended her use of a private email account and server, saying in her first nationally televised interview as a presidential candidate earlier this month, “There was no law, there was no regulation that did not give me the full authority of how I was going to communicate.”
Gowdy further aggravated the committee’s Democrats when he made public a March subpoena of Clinton’s emails, in response to Clinton’s claims during the same interview that she “never had a subpoena.”
Clinton has said she wants her emails to be released as quickly as possible, but the State Department’s internal review will not be completed until early 2016. Gowdy and his fellow Republicans have called on Clinton to give her email server to a third-party investigator. Clinton deleted 30,000 emails that she and her legal team determined to be personal correspondence unrelated to her work at the State Department.