GOP slow-plays Benghazi investigation

Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has agreed to testify before the Benghazi committee this month but don’t expect Republicans to be satisfied with her appearance.

House Republicans have now spent a full year investigating the 2012 terrorist attacks in Libya — including whether any of the former secretary of State’s actions may have contributed to the incident — and there are few indications there will be a speedy conclusion to their inquiries.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the Select Committee on Benghazi, signaled he’s prepared to drag out his investigation well into 2016 if Clinton and the Obama administration continue to stonewall his requests for documents and answers.

{mosads}That would mean the probe would not conclude until the homestretch of Clinton’s long campaign for the White House.

“Chairman Gowdy said early on in this investigation that there is no statute of limitations on the truth. Our job is to get to the truth,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a leading House conservative who serves on the Benghazi panel, told The Hill. “I wish we could already be there but based on the way this administration has conducted themselves has just made it difficult.

“They’re the ones who’ve been driving the pace and the timing of all this.”

So far, there’s no agreement on when exactly Clinton would appear on Capitol Hill. In an interim report on of the Benghazi committee’s first year of work, Gowdy wrote Friday that the panel would call Clinton to testify once she and the State Department had provided all relevant information.

Since Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) created the Benghazi committee a year ago this week, the panel has adopted a go-slow approach. Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, has been thorough and methodical, while being careful not to make his investigation appear too overtly political or partisan.

When the committee discovered that Clinton had used a personal email account while leading the State Department, Gowdy called for her to turn over her email server to the agency’s inspector general or another neutral third party, GOP aides noted. That way an independent arbiter could separate the private emails from the public ones.

“The goal here is not pomp and circumstance or show hearings,” said a GOP leadership aide familiar with the investigation. “The goal is to get facts and a full and complete record of what happened before, during and after the attack. And that is the mandate Gowdy has steadfastly pursued.”

But Republicans are also fully aware the investigative panel — and the Benghazi issue in general — is proving to be a major political headache for the 2016 presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Boehner, whom Gowdy briefed last week on the Benghazi probe, has used recent news conferences to bring attention to the Clinton email scandal.

“Of course this is all detrimental to her political ambitions,” said one House GOP lawmaker.

It’s been more than two and a half years since Islamic militants attacked U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans — an assault that Clinton took responsibility for.

Republicans have long contended that Clinton and other senior State officials denied repeated requests for more security at the mission before the attack.

Democrats, meanwhile, have pointed out that Gowdy’s Benghazi investigation has lasted longer than congressional probes into the Pearl Harbor attack, John F. Kennedy assassination, and Iran-Contra scandal.

But Republicans have made no apologies about their slow-and-steady approach. The Benghazi panel, they argue, unearthed the existence of Clinton’s private server that numerous other House and Senate committees missed in their own investigations.

And the panel contacted eyewitnesses who never had been interviewed before, and secured tens of thousands of new documents related to the attack. Just last week, the State Department handed over more than 4,000 documents from the agency’s own investigation into the deadly attack. Congress had never reviewed them before.

The disclosure was soon followed by a May 4 letter from Clinton’s attorney to Gowdy that she would appear once before the committee, not twice as he had insisted for months.

The missive was the latest in a months long chess match between Clinton’s team and the panel about when she would make her third congressional appearance on the attacks.

In January, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the panel’s top Democrat, said Clinton had agreed to testify again on Benghazi.

But the March revelation that Clinton used a personal email server while helming the State Department complicated the calendar, prompting Gowdy to say Clinton would have to appear twice: first to address the email controversy behind closed doors, and again during an open hearing on the 2012 assault.

Clinton’s attorney, David Kendall, eventually pushed back, writing in an April 22 letter that there was “no reason to delay her appearance or to have her testify in a private interview.”

Gowdy then said in an April 23 response that both hearings could be held in public.

The South Carolina lawmaker has yet to respond to Clinton’s latest demand for a single hearing and likely won’t until after meeting with fellow panel Republicans this week.

Jordan and others are still pushing for two hearings, saying they’d have an enormous amount of material to cover. For instance, Gowdy has asked Clinton 136 questions about her private email server alone, none of which have been answered.

“My focus is on: What did Mrs. Clinton know? What was she involved with? What decisions did she make when she was secretary of State, and specifically secretary of State relative to Benghazi?” Jordan said in a phone interview from Ohio. “I am not concerned about Hillary Clinton who wants to be president.”

Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill declined to comment for this story. But Clinton’s attorneys have rebuffed Gowdy’s request for more documents, saying her server has been wiped clean and that she’s already turned over 900 pages worth of emails.

Meanwhile, Clinton’s allies on Capitol Hill insist the Gowdy investigation is nothing more than a smear campaign, a GOP effort to undermine her credibility and reputation before voters elect a new president in November 2016.

“The Republicans want to have her here every 10 minutes. It’s a political exercise for them,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a member of the Armed Services Committee who in 2013 became the first senator to endorse Clinton this cycle.

“I think she is saying, ‘I’ll come. I’ll answer any questions you want me to answer. But I’m not going to come repeatedly to satisfy your need for political theater,’” McCaskill added. “I think they’ll use every trick they possible can to try to damage her politically.”

But GOP senators who’ve been monitoring the Benghazi panel say its members have been measured and thoughtful in their pursuit of the facts.

“Let’s face it. This administration is not transparent. They are not turning over records willingly,” said Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who famously tangled with Clinton over Benghazi at a 2013 hearing.

“It’s like pulling teeth, and it takes a while to pull teeth.”

Tags Benghazi Hillary Clinton Politics Trey Gowdy

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