Benghazi panel head: Clinton testimony will be delayed

Anne Wernikoff

The chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi says Hillary Clinton’s testimony will be delayed until the panel gets all relevant documents from the State Department.

“Simply put, the Committee must have the records of communication requested more than six months ago before the secretary’s appearance can be scheduled,” Rep. Trey GowdyTrey GowdyLawmakers press Lynch for briefing on Yahoo secret email scanning reports Clinton IT aide pleads Fifth, skips hearing House Oversight subpoenas FBI for Clinton investigation documents MORE (R-S.C.) wrote Thursday in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.

Gowdy's decision throws cold water on the idea that Clinton, a 2016 contender, could appear before the panel next week, as her attorney offered.

In a May 4 letter to Gowdy, Clinton's attorney said the 2016 presidential contender was willing to appear before the committee – but only once. The letter said she could testify the week of May 18, a date previously requested by Gowdy.

“Secretary Clinton is insistent she will appear once and only once before the select committee,” Gowdy said in a separate statement Thursday. “The committee must be equally insistent that her appearance is thorough and fully productive.”

That “requires the record to be complete so the members can effectively base their questions on documents,” he added.

Gowdy said the “pace of State Department document production has become an impediment” to the 12-member panel’s investigation of the 2012 attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.

“The Committee needs these emails to have some sense of the completeness of Secretary Clinton’s self-selected public record and to formulate substantive questions for her on Benghazi,” Gowdy said.

“I have no interest in prolonging the time before she appears before the Committee, but I do have an interest in assuring the Committee has access to all the facts.”

In his letter, the former federal prosecutor cited an agreement he struck last year with Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the panel’s top Democrat, that Clinton would appear 30 days after the panel determined it has received all the documents it requested from the State Department.

“To be clear, Secretary Clinton would also benefit from the ability to review such documents before or during her appearance,” Gowdy said.

Gowdy, in his letter, also said the GOP-controlled committee’s hope Clinton would appear “sooner rather later was adversely impacted” by her admission in February to using a private email server while leading the State Department.

“Assuring the public record is indeed complete is difficult enough given that the emails the State Department now belatedly possesses were only produced after the former Secretary’s personal attorney reviewed those emails,” according to Gowdy.

“The assurance the Committee needs that the record is in fact sufficient is necessarily dependent upon the Committee receiving the relevant records sought more than a half a year ago." 

The State Department, though, says it is complying with Gowdy's request and has gone through 31,000 messages from Clinton's server and produced 4,000 additional documents from its own internal investigation into Benghazi.

"It’s clear the Committee doesn’t know how to take ‘yes’ for an answer," State spokesman Alec Gerlach said in a statement to The Hill.

Cummings also blasted the delay in a statement.

“Republicans are on a fishing expedition for anything they can use against Secretary Clinton in her presidential campaign, and every time they come back empty-handed, they extend their trip at taxpayer expense," he said.

"The Committee has had Secretary Clinton’s emails for months," he added, referencing 300 messages from Clinton's server that Gowdy said are relevant to the investigation.

"This new claim that the Department has not produced a single responsive document is completely baseless and appears to be yet another excuse to drag out Secretary Clinton’s testimony until closer to the election," said Cummings.

This story was updated at 3:58 p.m.