Fiery exchanges dominate all-day Clinton testimony on Benghazi

The GOP chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi repeatedly squared off with congressional Democrats during former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Armageddon elections to come Poll: Trump leads 2024 Republican field with DeSantis in distant second The politics of 'mind control' MORE’s all-day testimony Thursday.

Benghazi Chairman Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (R-S.C.) and ranking Democratic Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Manchin says no; White House fires back House Democrats find drug companies 'unjustified' in price hikes Your must-read holiday book list from members of Congress MORE (D-Md.) held a fiery exchange three hours into the hearing over whether testimony by longtime Clinton associate Sidney Blumenthal should be publicly released.

It left Clinton, the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, watching from the sidelines — at times with a smirk on her face.

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Gowdy also tangled with Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffMask rules spark political games and a nasty environment in the House CIA says 'Havana syndrome' unlikely a result of 'worldwide campaign' by foreign power The Hill's Morning Report - Biden to make voting rights play in Atlanta MORE (D-Calif.) over the Blumenthal testimony, which ultimately led to a party-line vote to keep the transcripts secret.

“You asked for the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” Cummings shouted at Gowdy. “Why don’t you just put that entire transcript out there and let the world see it! What do you have to hide?”

Gowdy, shouting back at Cummings, argued that Democrats are only concerned about making the Blumenthal testimony public.

“His are the only emails you have released,” countered Schiff. “If you’re going to release his emails, release the transcript where he gives context for those emails.”

Gowdy then promised that when the committee returned from a break the Democrats would hear even more about Blumenthal.

After the party-line vote, the chairman proceeded to dig in on Blumenthal, hammering Clinton on her relationship with him. 

GOP Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (Ga.) voted against releasing the transcript, even though he had previously told The Hill that it “needs to be released.”

Gowdy alleged that Blumenthal had special access to the former secretary of State.

Blumenthal’s ability to repeatedly email Clinton set him in a class apart, Gowdy and other Republicans insisted, and gave him status that even late Ambassador Chris Stevens — one of the four Americans killed in the 2012 violence in Benghazi, Libya — did not enjoy.

“It looks like certain things went straight to your inbox and other things did not,” Gowdy claimed.

He also said Blumenthal had “unfettered access” to the former first lady.

Democrats accused Gowdy of deviating from the mission of the Benghazi Committee, which is to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Sept. 11, 2012, terror attack in Libya. Instead, they said Republicans were bringing the committee back to the politically vulnerable issue of Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time at State.

“We just heard email after email after email about Libya and Benghazi that Sidney Blumenthal sent to the secretary of State,” Gowdy insisted in a particularly tense moment.

“I don’t care if he sent it by Morse code, carrier pigeon, smoke signals — the fact that he happened to send it by email is irrelevant," he said. “What is relevant if that he was sending information to the secretary of State!”

Blumenthal repeatedly emailed Clinton with information about the situation on the ground in Libya, as well as news articles and other information.

The emails were “unsolicited,” Clinton said, while maintaining that he was not an adviser.

“He, like a number of my friends who would hand me newspaper articles or buttonhole me at a reception ... was trying to be helpful,” she said. “Some of it was, a lot of it wasn’t.”

Throughout the course of the day, Clinton avoided stepping into the fray surrounding the tense politics on the panel. Instead, she let committee Democrats go after Gowdy for what they described as a partisan attack to tear down Clinton’s presidential prospects.  

“What we’ve learned here is nothing, frankly, that we didn’t know already,” said Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), in one of many remarks that accused Republicans of wasting taxpayer money with their attacks.   

“The purpose of this committee is to prosecute you,” he told Clinton. “There will be time enough for that next year.”

“This is not a prosecution,” Gowdy insisted. “This is an investigation.”

“They say they want to get at the truth, but the truth is they spent most of the time today ... attacking members of this committee and its process,” added Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.).

“I think that’s a violation of their duty to their country.”

This story was updated at 4:51 p.m.