Benghazi panel getting close, may release report before conventions

Benghazi panel getting close, may release report before conventions
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The House Select Committee on Benghazi has quietly begun to draft its long-awaited report, and could release it weeks before this July’s political conventions.

Republican members of the committee insist that they have been diligently reviewing files and asking questions about the 2012 terror attack in the Libyan city, which killed four Americans.


The work comes even as the lawmakers try to escape allegations — from members of both parties — that the probe is exclusively focused on former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again Don't expect Trump-sized ratings for Democratic debates Ocasio-Cortez on Biden: 'I think that he's not a pragmatic choice' MORE.

“We’re getting close to wrapping it up,” Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) told The Hill on Friday.

“We’re starting to begin to put together the report… We’re getting to the tail end of the investigative phase.”

The spotlight has faded after Clinton and other high profile witnesses such as former CIA Director David Petraeus and ex-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have come and gone.

And in its stead, criticism has mounted from both sides of the aisle. 

Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyOur sad reality: Donald Trump is no Eisenhower GOP takes aim at Comey, Brennan House Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report MORE (R-S.C.) last year fought off friendly fire from Republicans who indicated the panel’s work was solely focused on Clinton. In March, GOP front-runner Donald TrumpDonald John Trump2020 Democrats spar over socialism ahead of first debate Senate passes .5 billion border bill, setting up fight with House 'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again MORE called the panel’s four open hearings “a total disaster.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have long since dismissed its work as a purely political hit piece on Clinton, the Democratic front-runner.

As a result, committee Republicans have hunkered down, creating an air of inscrutability. 

“Because so many of our interviews are classified, behind-closed-door interviews, not open hearings, it has created a vacuum in which other members of Congress have commented on or speculated to what we're doing or what our motivations are,” said one member of the committee, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly. “We remain committed to leaving no stone unturned.”

“I think the restlessness has come from the fact that there’s so much energy around Hillary Clinton’s interview,” the lawmaker added. “I think people in their minds, even members, made it so much so about her, neglecting the fact that we’ve done now over 70 interviews, [including] a lot of people who were there, who were on the ground, had never been talked to by any other committee of jurisdiction.”

Republicans blame the Obama administration for the protracted length of the probe, which will hit its two-year mark on May 2.

“This investigation could have been completed a lot sooner if not for the administration’s serial production delays,” Gowdy said in a statement. “So the real question is why have they dragged this into an election year?”

The committee still has roughly 10 people left to interview and is waiting for additional documents from the Obama administration, a committee aide said.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) described the remaining witnesses as being “more to the military side.”

Just last week, a year after initial requests were filed, the committee received more than 1,100 pages of records from the State Department.

“We would have loved to finish it in a year. But when you don’t have the information, it’s impossible,” Westmoreland said.

Multiple members of the panel predicted that a public copy of the report would be released in June or July, butting up against the party conventions in late July.

For Democrats, the drawn-out nature of the committee is proof positive of what they have long said is a thinly-veiled politically-motivated plot to hurt Clinton.

“As we suspected, they’re dragging this out as close to the election as they can without it being so patently obvious,” claimed Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation high ahead of first debate Democratic lawmaker: Mueller testimony 'doesn't have to go beyond' report to be 'really damning' for Trump 'Fox & Friends' co-host: 'I don't think' Mueller knows the details of Mueller report MORE (D-Calif.). “But we’re stuck going along for the ride, as long as this taxpayer abuse goes on.”

The two parties have long been at odds over the purpose of the committee, which Democrats initially considered boycotting. After internal debate in October, following the marathon hearing with Clinton, the committee’s five Democrats decided against abandoning the panel’s work.

In March, Republicans changed the panel’s rules to limit Democrats’ access to witnesses’ transcripts, after Democrats declined to promise not to release portions of the interviews on their own. The new rules require that ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and other Democrats review the transcripts under Republican supervision.

“We asked them to share the transcripts; they refused to do so,” Cummings said.

Republicans note that Democrats are responsible for roughly one-third of the panel’s $6.6 million in spending, despite not requesting witnesses or asking for new documents. In the weeks since the fresh skirmish broke out last month, Democratic lawmakers have declined to inspect them in the GOP’s offices, a committee aide said.

Democrats say they have been excluded from the Republicans’ drafting efforts, and will likely write their own analysis rebutting most of the GOP conclusions.

“I suspect the first time we’ll get to see what they even have in mind is when they release it in public, which I imagine it to be a repackaging of old news with new screaming headlines,” said Schiff. “But the reality is, notwithstanding the number of interviews and documents they like to point to as an indicia of progress, they have uncovered nothing to alter the fundamental conclusions of the other eight investigations” into the Benghazi attack by Congress.

Republicans promise that their report will include new information about the 2012 violence, as well as the events leading up to it and the aftermath.

“There will be places where we draw some conclusions,” said Pompeo.

“Equally important to that is trying to be the clearinghouse for all that we’ve learned — that is, to make sure that it is out there.”

While Republicans insist that Clinton will not be a central part of the final report, she is likely to be at least prominently featured. And if she becomes the Democratic presidential nominee, the panel's conclusions are likely to haunt her on the campaign trail throughout the fall. 

“The thing we do know is that the story Secretary Clinton told after the tragedy was very different, publicly, than what she said privately,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said. “I believe she did it for total political reasons.

“That will certainly be, I think, a highlighted part of the report.”