Benghazi panel claims 'enormous progress' after key interviews

Benghazi panel claims 'enormous progress' after key interviews
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The head of the House Benghazi Committee claims to have achieved “significant breakthroughs” following interviews with top Obama administration officials this month.

The panel “has made enormous progress this month,” Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyHouse Oversight slams TSA after report says officials 'interfered' in disciplinary case Gowdy steps down from Ethics Committee, citing 'challenging workload' Oversight Dems ask for subpoena of Trump Organization MORE (R-S.C.) said in a statement on Thursday, following interviews with officials including national security adviser Susan Rice and deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.

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Those two closed-door interviews followed “months and months of quiet negotiations with the White House,” Gowdy said.

This week, the committee — which is investigating the deadly 2012 terrorist attacks on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya — also interviewed former National Counterterrorism Center Director Matt Olsen, Gowdy said.

Rice’s interview is especially notable because she has been at the center of allegations that the Obama administration misled the American public by claiming that the attacks were linked to an offensive video denigrating Islam. She appeared on multiple political talk shows in the days after Sept. 11, 2012, and seemed to pin the blame on protests caused by the video, called “Innocence of Muslims,” instead of a planned assault by armed militants.

Rhodes has also been in critics’ crosshairs because of his role preparing talking points for Rice ahead of those TV appearances.

In addition to the interviews with the prominent White House aides, Gowdy also claimed that the panel last week “gained access to crucial national security records we sought for nearly a year.”

“While there are still witnesses to talk to and documents to review, these significant breakthroughs are big wins that will help the committee complete the most comprehensive investigation into what happened before, during and after the Benghazi terrorist attacks, and release a report as soon as possible,” he said.

All told, Benghazi committee leaders claim to have interviewed 75 witnesses, 59 of whom did not appear before the multiple other congressional probes into the attacks.

The recent progress is among the committee's final actions before it assembles a report on the Benghazi attacks, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Democrats on the GOP-led committee have been quick to dismiss the panel’s work as a purely partisan endeavor meant to smear former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonIntel Dem decries White House 'gag order' after Bannon testimony 'Total free-for-all' as Bannon clashes with Intel members Mellman: On Political Authenticity (Part 2) MORE, who is currently a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. The committee's investigation has been underway for more than a year and a half, which Democrats claim is evidence of its misguided nature.

“The select committee was thoroughly discredited last year when even Republican leadership admitted that the committee was a taxpayer funded tool to target Secretary Clinton,” a Democratic spokesman said on Thursday. “Republicans are desperate to rehabilitate their image, and yet they continue to drag out the committee's tenure well into the 2016 election year‎ with no end in sight.”

“The simple truth is that the facts haven't changed, and the core findings of the many previous investigations have stood up to the repeated and wasteful scrutiny,” the spokesman added.

Republicans instead accuse Democratic lawmakers of stalling the panel’s work and blame the Obama administration for stonewalling its investigation. 

Updated at 10:49 a.m.