WASHINGTON — Partisan acrimony escalated Monday on the special House committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi when Democrats released portions of the panel’s interview with a top aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The committee’s Republican chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, has so far refused requests to disclose the transcript of the nine-hour interview last month with Cheryl Mills, who was Clinton’s chief of staff at the time of the attacks.
So Democrats, irritated by what they say are selective and inaccurate leaks by the GOP about Mills’ testimony, are going public. In a Monday letter, they gave Gowdy five days to notify them if he believes anything in the transcript should be withheld. In the meantime, Democrats disclosed their favored sections of Mills’ testimony, including statements about Clinton’s response the night of the attacks and her role in the follow-up investigation of the State Department by the Accountability Review Board.
“During Ms. Mills’ interview... she debunked numerous Republican conspiracy theories that have been made for several years — and that continue to be repeated even today — yet Republicans did not make any of that information public,” the Democrats wrote.
Democrats delivered their letter to Gowdy on Monday morning. Republicans did not issue an immediate comment.
The letter was signed by all five Democrats on the committee, including Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking member. It was prompted, in part, by controversial comments last week by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy that the committee has succeeded in damaging Clinton’s presidential campaign. McCarthy retracted his comments and defended Gowdy’s work as a neutral fact-finding mission without a political motive.
Clinton is scheduled to testify publicly before the special House committee on Oct. 22.
According to the testimony released by Democrats, Mills told the committee in her Sept. 3 interview that neither she nor Clinton tried to influence the direction of the Accountability Review Board’s investigation of the State Department. That backed up testimony from the board’s leaders two years ago that neither Mills nor Clinton tried to edit the report.
Mills also told the Benghazi committee that Clinton wanted the board to be made up of people who “could give hard medicine if that was what was needed.”
Republicans have challenged the independence of the Accountability Review Board’s report, which was released in December 2012 about four months after terrorists overran U.S. facilities in Benghazi and killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The investigation, led by retired ambassador Thomas Pickering and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, found systematic failures by State Department leaders that led to “grossly inadequate” security.
Immediately after Mills’ testimony, Gowdy said Republicans planned to treat her interview as classified. But Democrats immediately disputed that assessment, saying some staff members present for the interview didn’t have security clearances. In their letter sent Monday, they say copies of the full transcript have been shared on unclassified email.
A spokesman for Gowdy and Republicans on the Benghazi committee said the panel has not released transcripts from witness interviews for several reasons, including to avoid tainting the recollections of future witnesses.