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House panel moves to block State funding over Benghazi emails

House panel moves to block State funding over Benghazi emails
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House Republicans on Tuesday unveiled a spending bill that would withhold some funding for the State Department until officials cooperate with their investigation into the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

The House Appropriations Committee’s state and foreign operations bill for fiscal 2016 “withholds 15 percent of State Department’s operational funds until requirements related to proper management of Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] and electronic communications are met,” Republicans said in a statement.

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The bill makes good on a threat the House GOP had been considering earlier this month to use funding as leverage to obtain documents related to Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonJewish groups divided over Hanukkah party at Trump hotel Colo. AG: Electoral College lawsuit could cause 'chaos' Spokesman: NY Times ignored Reid's comments in pre-election story on Russia MORE’s time as the nation’s top diplomat.

"The Hillary emails would be wholly contained within the net that they are casting," an Appropriations Committee source said.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House's Select Benghazi Committee, ripped the GOP's funding threat.

“Reducing State Department funding and personnel will only further slowdown and drag out the Republican’s taxpayer-funded political attack on Secretary Clinton,” Cummings said in a statement. 

“The fact is that the Department has already produced Secretary Clinton’s Benghazi-related emails, and the Committee has had them for months. It makes no sense to cut the Department’s budget while continuing to give the Select Committee a blank check.”

Alec Gerlach, a spokesman for the State Department, warned a 15 percent cut would be “counterproductive,” making it harder to keep up with requests for documents from the public and members of Congress.

“The State Department is committed to openness and transparency in government. We do face challenges with the number of requests for documents and we’re working to meet them head on — achieving a near 14 percent reduction in our appeals backlog last year,” Gerlach said in a statement.

“But, since 2008, our FOIA caseload has increased by more than 300 percent. In Fiscal Year 2008, the State Department received fewer than 6,000 new FOIA requests, but last year we received nearly 20,000 and that number continues to rise.  The number of Congressional oversight requests has also dramatically increased.”

Last week the State Department turned over 1,200 emails from one of Clinton’s top aides to the Benghazi Committee.

The documents amount to "partial compliance” on a subpoena the panel issued in March for “one of the seventh-floor principal's emails," a spokesman told The Hill.

The documents are separate from the 55,000 emails that Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential front-runner, turned over to State from the private email server she used while leading the department.

A District of Columbia judge has ordered the State Department to release Clinton’s emails in batches every 30 days, rejecting an agency plan to roll them out in early 2016.

“The frustration continues,” Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), one of the Benghazi panel’s seven Republicans, told The Hill Tuesday morning. “We continue to try to persuade the State Department to give us information.”

Jordan said he had not reviewed the 1,200 emails handed over last week but “staff is going over them.”

Overall, the House GOP spending bill contains $47.8 billion in both discretionary funding and the Pentagon’s war fund. The total is $1.4 billion less than the current level and $6.1 billion below President Obama’s request.

The State Department would receive $15.8 billion, which the Appropriations panel said includes the full requested amount for embassy security at more than 275 diplomatic facilities.

Nearly three years after the 2012 Benghazi attacks, Republicans are including $5.6 billion for embassy and diplomatic security, which is $165 million more than the 2015 level. 

White House press secretary Josh Earnest panned the Republican bill as playing politics with security.

"Hearing it for the first time, I am struck by the irony that House Republicans, who profess to be significantly concerned about security at U.S. embassies around the world, are threatening to withhold funding for security at our embassies around the world.”

“That is consistent with an approach that puts politics ahead of the lives of our diplomats, and that is certainly not an approach that would garner the approval of the president of the United States.”

— Rebecca Shabad, Scott Wong and Jordan Fabian contributed.

— This report was last updated at 1:33 p.m.