Benghazi panel enters crucial phase

Benghazi panel enters crucial phase
© Greg Nash

The House Select Committee on Benghazi is entering a crucial month.
 
The GOP-controlled panel has spent the last several weeks ramping up its probe of the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, setting the stage for a slew of important decisions before the August recess.
 
At the top of the list is a potential panel vote over whether to release the deposition of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP rushes to cut ties to Moore Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Stephen Miller, helped edit Trump speech: report Bannon jokes Clinton got her ‘ass kicked’ in 2016 election MORE friend and adviser Sidney Blumenthal.
 

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Panel Democrats have pushed hard to have the transcript of the roughly nine-hour, closed-door meeting made public. They argue that the record will show Republicans asked Blumenthal mostly partisan questions, and few about the siege that killed four Americans.
 
Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the select committee’s top Democrat, issued a statement earlier this week saying a vote on releasing the transcript had been slated for July 8.
 
But a spokesman for Benghazi chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyControversial ‘hack back’ bill gains supporters despite critics Top Oversight Dem pushes back on Uranium One probe Overnight Cybersecurity: Manafort, Gates to remain under house arrest | Mueller said to be closing in on Flynn | 'Hack back' bill gains steam | Election security gets attention from DHS MORE (R-S.C.) has since refuted that claim.
 
“At this point the chairman has not scheduled anything relative to that,” spokesman Jamal Ware told The Hill on Thursday.
 
If a vote were to take place it likely would be done as part of other select committee business, he added.
 
Another matter of precedence for the panel will be poring over 3,600 pages of fresh documents from the State Department, including emails from Clinton aides Jake Sullivan and Cheryl Mills.
 
The batch also includes communications from then-United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice.
 
The latest documents stem from a subpoena the House panel issued earlier this year for the emails from ten "seventh floor principals" at Foggy Bottom during Clinton’s tenure.
 
One congressional aide said that while State has provided 4,800 pages of documents relevant to the subpoena and may be “proud of themselves, patting themselves on the back” the original request was made eight months ago, which means the agency is averaging 20 pages a day.
 
“That’s absolutely nothing that the State Department should be crowing about.”
 
The war of words over document production recently hit new heights when Gowdy announced he’s called on Jon Finer, Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryKerry: Trump's rhetoric gave North Korea a reason to say 'Hey, we need a bomb' Russian hackers targeted top US generals and statesmen: report Trump officials to offer clarity on UN relief funding next week MORE’s chief of staff, to appear before the panel about the agency’s “total recalcitrance at allowing Congress to investigate.”
 
“If I don't get satisfaction from that public interaction with his chief of staff, the next person to come explain to Congress why he has been so recalcitrant in turning over documents will be the secretary himself,” Gowdy said on CBS's “Face the Nation.”
 
The aide said Finer’s appearance would likely take place in a “public setting” such as hearing, which would mark the first time the select committee has convened outside of closed doors since January.
 
However, a timeframe for Finer’s testimony is murky, as talks over Iran’s nuclear program continue overseas.
 
In the meantime, Republicans are likely to press State over a letter that accompanied the latest document delivery stating the agency is withholding "a small number" of documents from the panel on the basis of "important executive branch institutional interests."
 
The aide said “that is something members are going to talk about when they get back” in order to determine what the committee’s response will be.
 
Any attempt to withhold documents or information is a “cause for concern,” the aide said.
 
The disclosure is likely to augment calls for Clinton to turn the private email server she used while acting as the nation's top diplomat over to an independent third party.
 
“The chairman’s position on that hasn’t changed,” according to Ware.
 
“The best way to ensure transparency and make sure the record is complete” is for Clinton to give the server to a third party for forensic analysis, he added.
 
Despite the looming whirlwind of activity, Cummings maintains that the investigation’s objective is to harm Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid.
 
“Republicans have spent more than $3.6 million taxpayer dollars so far in this desperate attempt to find any evidence to support their allegations against Secretary Clinton, and their only response to failure has been to double their efforts, expanding their investigation further and further away from Benghazi, and further from the promises that we made to the families of the Americans we lost in the attacks,” he said in a statement to The Hill.
 
“What’s next?” he asked.  “Sadly, I think more of the same.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story mistakenly contained a quote from a State Departmnent spokesman referencing a different set of e-mails.