By Billy House, Terrence Dopp and Ben Brody, Bloomberg News (TNS)
WASHINGTON — Long-time Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin was being interviewed Friday behind closed doors by a Republican-led House committee investigating the Benghazi terrorist attack.
Abedin, who’s now vice-chairwoman of Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, offered no comment to reporters as she entered a hearing room at the U.S. Capitol on Friday morning. She was expected to be questioned for several hours by the panel, which is probing the 2012 attack on a U.S. mission in Libya that left four Americans dead.
“She’s being very forthcoming. She’s being very honest,” said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, a Georgia Republican on the panel. He added that “she didn’t recall some things” about the Benghazi attacks, though he declined to provide specifics.
Abedin’s interview comes less than a week before Clinton herself is to testify before the panel in a public hearing. Their appearances are taking place as revelations about Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of State continue to weigh on her bid for the Democratic nomination.
The inquiry has been challenged by Democrats as politically motivated. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland who serves on the committee, said the final tab for the panel may end up as high as $6 million. He said Abedin had no policy or operational role in the Benghazi matter, and wasn’t even with Clinton on the night of the attack.
“The question again becomes whether this is a taxpayer-funded effort to derail the candidacy of Hillary Clinton,” Cummings said during a six-minute statement to reporters outside the committee room. “Hopefully, come Thursday, Secretary Clinton will have her day to explain it all.”
The committee’s Republican chairman, Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, is not attending Friday’s interview, according to Jamal Ware, a spokesman.
Gowdy goes over with his staff the “questions to be asked, and he trusts his colleagues and staff to then ask substantive, investigatory questions,” Ware said.
Objections to the panel’s work have been fueled by comments during the last two weeks by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Rep. Richard Hanna of New York, who cited the committee’s work as helping to undermine Clinton’s presidential prospects and poll numbers.
Abedin, a fixture at Clinton’s side for at least 15 years and now on the campaign trail, was a top aide to Clinton while she served as secretary of State. Clinton was at the helm of the State Department on Sept. 11, 2012, when the terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya, resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Prior to Abedin’s appearance, a committee spokesman earlier this week released a statement underscoring that she would only be asked about “issues pertaining to the committee’s charter.”
It described those as “events leading up to, during and after the attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, and executive branch activities and efforts to comply with congressional inquiries into them.” She would not be questioned, it said, about other issues.
Abedin — who’s married to disgraced former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner — has been a frequent target of conservatives’ efforts to discredit Clinton. The accusations included that she received too much pay for a vacation. The claim is under investigation, with Abedin maintaining she worked while she was supposed to be off.
Clinton’s use of a private email server for official business while serving as secretary of State was revealed by the Benghazi committee. Abedin also had an account on the private server.
Westmoreland said Friday that Abedin so far hasn’t been asked by panel members about the emails and Clinton’s private server.
Her messages, some of which have come out in separate Freedom of Information actions from Clinton’s, did show she sometimes corresponded with Clinton Foundation officials on her State Department account. And while she was at the department, Abedin was granted permission — special government employee status — to do work with the foundation and a company called Teneo Holdings.
That consultancy was founded by a Bill Clinton adviser, Doug Band, and a former diplomat in Clinton’s State Department, Declan Kelly.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, has asked whether the firm’s high-profile international clients and Abedin’s simultaneous work meant she had a conflict of interest. Her lawyers have said she did not.
Those issues fall outside the committee’s charter, according to the Benghazi committee statement earlier this week.
The committee acknowledged in the statement that it has previously avoided announcing who was appearing before it. Republicans, led by Gowdy, are now seeking to dim the claims that its efforts are partisan and aimed at derailing Clinton politically — which the panel said in the statement are a “continued mischaracterization.”
Photo: Huma Abedin (C), longtime aide to U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, enters the room to meet with the House Select Committee on Benghazi in the U.S. Capitol in Washington October 16, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque