By Alexander Bolton and Martin Matishak - 03/04/15 06:00 AM EST
The revelation that former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonClinton: 'I prepared to be president' Social media focuses on Trump in first debate Clinton: We must fight 'implicit bias' MORE used a private email account for government business breathed new life Tuesday into a congressional investigation of Benghazi.
Republicans seized on the news to defend their probe of Clinton’s actions in the lead-up to and aftermath of the deadly 2012 attacks against the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya.
“This revelation, which we have known about … may well lay the groundwork for additional conversations with the secretary in some setting or another,” Gowdy told reporters at a press conference.
GOP strategists say the new revelation ensures scrutiny of Clinton’s handling of Benghazi well into the presidential year.
“The bad news for Mrs. Clinton is it just raises all sorts of questions. What’s in those emails? Is this why they wanted to halt the Benghazi investigation?” said Vin Weber, a Republican strategist who advised Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.
“It’s hard to see how this comes to a quick, clean end,” Weber added. “I think it just drags on.”
Clinton’s camp signaled it viewed the issue seriously by releasing two statements arguing that she had complied with the letter and spirit of the law.
“Like secretaries of State before her, she used her own email account when engaging with any department officials,” Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill said. “For government business, she emailed them on their department accounts, with every expectation they would be retained.”
Clinton’s staff recently shared 55,000 pages of emails with the State Department in response to its request for records, but congressional investigators believe they withheld some documents, raising the possibility that material relevant to their investigation is being kept secret.
Republicans on both sides of the Capitol called for Clinton and her aides to turn over to Congress all private emails she sent and received through a private account during her tenure in the Obama administration, which lasted from 2009 to 2013.
“Our interest is in gaining access [to] all the documents,” Gowdy said. “We want her emails and her documents that are relevant to Benghazi.”
Gowdy said discovery of the private emails gives his panel new impetus to fulfill its task of reviewing all policies, activities and decisions that took place before, during and after the attacks.
“You cannot do that if you do not have all of the documents that would be in the care, custody or control of the secretary of State at the time,” he said, noting that not even the State Department has access to these documents.
Gowdy declined to speculate on whether Clinton or her aides would face prosecution for not preserving emails on government servers as mandated by the Federal Records Act.
Democrats in recent months have called on Gowdy to wrap up his probe, arguing that all relevant questions about the attacks have been thoroughly reviewed.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the select committee, pushed back against Gowdy’s description of the private email account as a game-changer.
“It has been public for several years that Secretary Clinton used her personal email account, apparently following the pattern of previous secretaries of state,” he said in a statement. “Although Secretary Clinton has produced her emails to the State Department, it is unclear from press reports whether previous Secretaries have done the same.”
But Robert Gibbs, President Obama’s first press secretary, said on NBC’s “Today” that he did not understand why Clinton used her personal account exclusively while at State.
“I think it’s something they’re going to have to explain in good measure today and probably figure out how to get a lot of those emails, or as many as they can back into the archive,” he said.
He called the revelation “highly unusual” because the White House told employees they needed to preserve all of their emails on official accounts.
Gowdy said his committee would approach Clinton, her attorneys and her email providers to obtain the records. His panel plans to send out preservation letters this week instructing Clinton and her camp to preserve any emails that might be relevant to its examination.
The news prompted Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to suggest he might join the effort to obtain Clinton’s correspondence.
“It’s certainly a violation of the code of conduct of people that are serving in government,” he said. “Obviously, we’re going to have to demand access to those quote ‘private’ emails. There’s no other way to approach it. You need all full information about Benghazi.”