By Billy House, Bloomberg News (TNS)
WASHINGTON — House Democrats are sharpening their criticism of a Republican-led panel investigating the Benghazi attacks, accusing the committee of shifting its focus to politically target presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
In a report released Monday, Democrats on the committee sought to debunk what they called “wild” assertions about the former secretary of State’s handling of the 2012 attacks, including that she had ordered the military to stand down on the night a U.S. mission in Libya was overrun by extremists.
The 124-page report escalates a Democratic offensive against the panel just days before Clinton is scheduled to testify publicly on Oct. 22. The motives of the Republican-led investigation have come under increasing attack by Democrats and set off a war of words with the panel’s chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina.
“Republicans have now admitted repeatedly that they are spending millions of taxpayer dollars to damage Secretary Clinton’s campaign for president,” said Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the panel’s top Democrat, in a statement attached to the report.
Jamal Ware, a spokesman for the committee, said the report showed that Democrats were more interested in providing political cover for Clinton than in finding out about what happened in Benghazi.
“For the majority members of this committee, they will continue to wait until after hearing from all witnesses, up to and including the very last one, before drawing conclusions, because that is what serious investigations do,” Ware said in a statement.
Democrats say that the committee has shifted its focus from investigating the 2012 terrorist attack that killed four Americans to probing Clinton’s use of a private email server for official business while serving as secretary of State. Revelations about Clinton’s use of a private email account emerged as a result of the committee’s work, and have weighed on her bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
Objections from Democrats 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.
Last week, Cummings criticized the committee for interviewing long-time Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, saying that she had no policy or operational role in the Benghazi matter. Republicans defended bringing Abedin before the panel for several hours of questioning on Friday, saying her role as a top State Department aide to Clinton made her testimony essential to learning more about Benghazi.
In their report, Democrats summarize 54 transcribed interviews and depositions conducted by the select committee — and they say none of the witnesses has substantiated claims made by Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates.
Along with noting that Clinton did not order the military to stand down on the night of the attacks, it says there is no evidence Clinton personally approved or ordered a reduction of security in Benghazi prior to the attacks or that Clinton or her aides oversaw an operation at the State Department to destroy or scrub embarrassing documents.
“The evidence obtained by the Select Committee also corroborates previous testimony to Congress indicating that Secretary Clinton was deeply engaged during and after the attacks and took action to ensure the safety and security of U.S. personnel, even as intelligence assessments of the attacks changed more than once during this period,” the report states.
The report also states that of the 70,000 pages of documents obtained by the committee, the only documents Gowdy has chosen to release publicly are Clinton’s emails with outside adviser Sidney Blumenthal.
“At the same time, Chairman Gowdy has blocked the public release of Mr. Blumenthal’s deposition transcript, which would reveal the questions Republicans asked about issues related to Secretary Clinton that have nothing to do with Benghazi, as well as Mr. Blumenthal’s answers to questions about the emails that Chairman Gowdy released,” the report states.
The report also notes the committee, meanwhile, “has never asked a single question to the secretary of Defense — in public or private,” or ever held a single hearing with anyone from the Department of Defense in 17 months.
On Sunday, Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas defended the panel, saying it remained focused on getting to the bottom of a terrorist attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
“We have an obligation to hold folks accountable and make sure that we reduce the risk that something like this could ever possibly happen again,” Pompeo, a committee member, told NBC’s Meet the Press.
(c)2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD). September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron