By Julian Hattem - 10/05/15 11:20 AM EDT
Democrats on the House Select Committee on Benghazi are going on offense ahead of Hillary Clinton’s public testimony later this month.
Defying the orders of Rep. Trey GowdyTrey GowdyHouse Democrats ask to review Benghazi report before it is released Benghazi panel interviews drone pilots after standoff with Pentagon Clinton’s email troubles deepen MORE (R-S.C.), the Democrats on Monday released portions of a secret transcript containing the testimony of Cheryl Mills, a Clinton aide and confidante.
Further upping the ante, the committee’s five Democrats threatened to release the full transcript of Mills’s closed-door testimony, which lasted for nine hours, unless Gowdy gives them a reason not to. [READ THE LETTER BELOW.]
“We believe it is time to begin releasing the transcripts of interviews conducted by the Select Committee in order to correct the public record after numerous inaccurate Republican leaks, and we plan to begin this process by releasing the full transcript of Ms. Mills’ interview,” the panel’s five Democratic lawmakers wrote in a letter to Gowdy.
The Democrats gave Gowdy, the State Department and lawyers for Mills five days to say whether any portions of the full transcript should remain private for national security reasons.
Republicans said the release of the partial transcript violated House rules and accused Democrats of acting upon “naked political motivation” to help Clinton “without regard for the integrity of the investigation.”
“Most Democrats on the Benghazi Committee have endorsed Clinton, and they are now running a protection effort for the former secretary,” said Jamal Ware, a spokesman for Gowdy.
“It is one thing to merely sit idly by while others do serious work, it is quite another to attempt to undercut that work with selective leaks in violation of House Rules.”
The transcript leak represents a major escalation in the partisan warfare that has gripped the Benghazi committee since its creation last year.
Democrats have been dialing up their attacks ever since Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — the front-runner to be the next Speaker — last week credited the Benghazi committee with sinking Clinton’s poll numbers.
The remark drew repudiation from Republicans and gave Democrats an opening to assail an investigation they have portrayed as a politically motivated “witch hunt” against their presidential front-runner.
Clinton, who is scheduled to deliver her long-awaited testimony to the Benghazi committee on Oct. 22, has dialed up her rhetoric as well. On Monday she accused Republicans of “exploit[ing]” the 2012 attack, which left four Americans dead, “for political reasons.”
“This committee was set up, as they have admitted, for the purpose of making a partisan political issue out of the deaths of four Americans,” Clinton said in an interview on NBC’s “Today.” “If I were president, and there were Republicans or Democrats thinking about that, I would have done everything to shut it down.”
Democrats last week toyed with the idea of boycotting the Benghazi committee to protest its actions. But Monday’s move shows they might be able to do more damage from within.
In their letter, the Democrats on the panel portrayed the release of Mills’s transcript as a last resort.
“We have held off on taking such action for more than a year, but we will no longer sit and watch selective, out-of-context leaks continue to mischaracterize the testimony the Select Committee has received,” they wrote.
Behind Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the Democrats have for months accused Republicans of selectively releasing information from their investigation to paint Clinton in an unfavorable light.
The quotes from Mills that were released Monday are more sympathetic to Clinton’s handling of the 2012 attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, which occurred while she was secretary of State.
After the attack, Clinton was “pretty emphatic about wanting whatever to be done and whatever were assets that could be deployed, if that was both effective and possible to be done,” Mills said, according to the excerpts. “There was not any notion of not doing that to the fullest amount that was practical, effective and possible.”
“Republicans have never disclosed any of this information from the interview of Ms. Mills to the public because it directly contradicts their political narrative,” Democrats wrote in their 2,600-word letter.
Democrats had previously pushed Gowdy to make the hearings with Mills and other officials public to prevent the selective leaking of information to the press.
But after Mills’s September testimony, Gowdy said Republicans would “treat the conversation as if it were classified.”
“I’d rather err on the side of y’all being upset with me that I’m not releasing it than err on the side of releasing it and then having to explain afterwards why I did it,” he told reporters at the time.
Democrats rejected those concerns on Monday, accusing Republicans of leaking quotes from Mills “within minutes” of saying the transcript should be kept secret.
“This assertion made little sense since you and other Republicans, as well as your own staff, took numerous steps prior to, during, and after the interview [with Mills] that would have violated security rules had any classified information been discussed,” the Democrats wrote.
After her all-day briefing in September, Mills described the questioning from the panel as full of “professionalism and respect.”
This story was updated at 7:10 p.m.