House Benghazi Probe Leader: Former Top Clinton Aide Mills ‘Answered All of the Committee’s Questions’

Trey Gowdy says the nine-hour interview with Cheryl Mills will be ‘treated as classified,’ rebuffing a senior Democrat’s call for the transcript’s immediate release

South Carolina GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Benghazi Committee, speaks to the media as he arrives to a closed interview with Cheryl Mills, former State Department chief of staff under former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
Bloomberg AFP/Getty
Ben Geman
Add to Briefcase
Ben Geman
Sept. 3, 2015, 2:19 p.m.

Cheryl Mills, one of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s closest con­fid­antes, fielded every ques­tion that the House Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Benghazi threw her way over the course of nine hours on Thursday, law­makers in the room said.

But don’t ex­pect to read the back-and-forth any­time soon.

“Ms. Mills answered all of the com­mit­tee’s ques­tions. The dia­logue was pro­fes­sion­al and fact-cent­ric,” Trey Gowdy, the GOP chair­man of the Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Benghazi, told re­port­ers after the daylong in­ter­view in the U.S. Cap­it­ol.

“The mem­bers of the Benghazi com­mit­tee on our side are go­ing to treat the con­ver­sa­tion as if it were clas­si­fied,” Gowdy ad­ded about the pan­el’s in­ter­rog­a­tion of Mills, who was Clin­ton’s State De­part­ment chief of staff.

Gowdy, Mills, and Eli­jah Cum­mings, who is the pan­el’s top Demo­crat, spoke briefly to re­port­ers after the wide-ran­ging in­ter­view by the GOP-led pan­el that’s prob­ing the 2012 at­tacks in Benghazi, Libya, but is also fo­cus­ing heav­ily on Clin­ton’s private email sys­tem.

Gowdy’s com­ments were a clear dis­missal of Cum­mings’s call for the tran­script of the closed-door in­ter­view to be made pub­lic quickly. Cum­mings told re­port­ers earli­er in the day that he was con­cerned that there would be “leaks” that in­ac­cur­ately char­ac­ter­ize the testi­mony of Mills.

“It is my hope that the tran­script will be re­leased im­me­di­ately. I think that she would want it that way and I cer­tainly want it that way,” Cum­mings near the room where Mills was be­ing in­ter­viewed.

Later, Cum­mings said the in­ter­view re­in­forced the in­ac­cur­acy of some GOP claims about Benghazi. “The sec­ret­ary did not per­son­ally au­thor­ize cables that re­duced the State De­part­ment’s se­cur­ity in Libya, and she did not or­der the mil­it­ary to stand down, as some have al­leged,” Cum­mings said in his sum­mary of the ses­sion.

A source fa­mil­i­ar with the testi­mony said Mills also told the pan­el that Clin­ton’s team did not shield any of Clin­ton’s work-re­lated mes­sages from pub­lic view or des­troy them, con­firm­ing an ac­count of Mills’ com­ments on the is­sue in Politico.

Clin­ton turned over roughly 30,000 emails to the State De­part­ment last year that had been on her private serv­er, while de­let­ing a roughly equal num­ber that she deemed per­son­al.

But Re­pub­lic­ans have said Clin­ton could have with­held im­port­ant in­form­a­tion, charges that grew after Clin­ton con­fid­ant Sid Blu­menth­al turned over a batch of his emails with Clin­ton to the Benghazi pan­el that in­cluded a lim­ited num­ber that the State De­part­ment could not find.

Cum­mings has ac­cused Re­pub­lic­ans of mis­char­ac­ter­iz­ing the June closed-door de­pos­ition of Blu­menth­al in leaks to the press, and at the time sim­il­arly called—to no avail—for the re­lease of the tran­script of Blu­menth­al’s full com­ments.

On Thursday, Cum­mings noted that Mills asked to testi­fy in pub­lic, but that Re­pub­lic­ans did not al­low it.

The Benghazi pan­el has not been re­leas­ing the tran­scripts of any of its closed-door ses­sions, and Gowdy said that was not go­ing to change when asked about the Mills in­ter­view that he said would he handle as clas­si­fied, at least for now.

“The pro­cess is, these tran­scripts … need to be looked at by en­tit­ies that have equit­ies in my ques­tions and the an­swers provided,” Gowdy told re­port­ers late Thursday af­ter­noon. “I am not go­ing to re­lease something that, in hind­sight, I say, ‘oops, I should not have re­leased that’. I’d rather err on the side of you all be­ing up­set with me that I am not re­leas­ing it then err in the side of re­leas­ing it and then hav­ing to ex­plain af­ter­wards what I did.”

The Benghazi pan­el is prob­ing the 2012 at­tacks at a dip­lo­mat­ic com­pound and nearby CIA fa­cil­ity that killed four Amer­ic­ans, in­clud­ing Am­bas­sad­or Chris Stevens.

Jake Sul­li­van, an­oth­er top Clin­ton State De­part­ment aide, is slated to ap­pear at a sim­il­ar closed-door ses­sion to­mor­row. He’s now work­ing for Clin­ton’s pres­id­en­tial cam­paign.

Gowdy and sev­er­al oth­er GOP mem­bers of the com­mit­tee came back to Wash­ing­ton from the con­gres­sion­al sum­mer re­cess to take part in the ques­tion­ing.

The in­ter­views are a key part of the in­vest­ig­a­tion be­cause Mills and Sul­li­van were in Clin­ton’s in­ner­most circle at State, and thou­sands of pages of Clin­ton’s emails re­leased in re­cent days and months show them both in fre­quent con­tact with Clin­ton over her private serv­er.

Mills offered short com­ments to re­port­ers after the daylong grilling, thank­ing Gowdy and Cum­mings for the “pro­fes­sion­al­ism and re­spect” that they have shown her. “Ob­vi­ously the tragedy that happened in Benghazi was about more than what’s hap­pen­ing in this room,” she said, adding it’s about the loss of people “dear to the State De­part­ment and dear to this coun­try.”

“We hon­or them by re­mem­ber­ing what happened and do­ing our best to en­sure that that doesn’t hap­pen again,” Mills said.

Mills’s in­ter­view took place a day after the rev­el­a­tion that Bry­an Pagliano, the former State De­part­ment com­puter staffer and aide in her 2008 White House run who helped to set up Clin­ton’s private serv­er in 2009, planned to in­voke his Fifth Amend­ment rights in­stead of ap­pear­ing at a de­pos­ition be­fore the com­mit­tee next week.

Re­pub­lic­ans served him with a sub­poena last month.

Clin­ton’s cam­paign said Pagliano’s de­cision was dis­ap­point­ing but un­der­stand­able. “We had hoped Bry­an would also agree to an­swer any ques­tions from the com­mit­tee, and had re­cently en­cour­aged him to grant the com­mit­tee’s re­quest for an in­ter­view,” an aide said.

“Bry­an is an ut­ter pro­fes­sion­al and a won­der­ful young man who does not live in the pub­lic eye and un­der­stand­ably may not wish to be drawn in­to a polit­ic­al spec­tacle.  So his de­cision is both un­der­stand­able and yet also dis­ap­point­ing to us, be­cause we be­lieve he has every reas­on to be trans­par­ent about his IT as­sist­ance,” the cam­paign aide said.

Pagliano’s at­tor­ney, Mark J. Mac­Dou­gall, ex­plained his de­cision this way in an Monday let­ter to the Benghazi com­mit­tee: “While we un­der­stand that Mr. Pagliano’s re­sponse to this sub­poena may be con­tro­ver­sial in the cur­rent polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment, we hope that the mem­bers of the Se­lect Com­mit­tee will re­spect our cli­ent’s right to in­voke the pro­tec­tions of the Con­sti­tu­tion.”

He then cites a 2001 Su­preme Court de­cision which noted that one of the Fifth Amend­ment’s “ba­sic func­tions” is to pro­tect in­no­cent people who “oth­er­wise might be en­snared by am­bigu­ous cir­cum­stances.”

A Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee spokes­wo­man said Pagliano’s at­tor­ney also told that pan­el, which is prob­ing Clin­ton’s email ar­range­ment, that he would in­voke his Fifth Amend­ment rights in re­sponse to their in­quiry.

“Mr. Pagliano’s leg­al coun­sel told the com­mit­tee on Tues­day that he would plead the Fifth to any and all ques­tions if he were com­pelled to testi­fy,” spokes­wo­man Beth Lev­ine said. The Sen­ate Home­land Se­cur­ity Com­mit­tee has also re­portedly con­tac­ted Pagliano.

What We're Following See More »
Health Care Vote Delayed
2 hours ago
Possible Active Shooter at Alabama Military Installation
4 hours ago
Senate Procedural Vote Now Coming on Wednesday
4 hours ago
SCOTUS to Hear Sports Betting Case
5 hours ago

"The U.S. Supreme Court has given new life to New Jersey's challenge to a federal sports betting ban, with the high court announcing Tuesday that it hear an appeal of federal court decisions that have blocked the state's plans. That extends a six-year effort led by Gov. Chris Christie to allow expanded gambling at Monmouth Park." The NFL, NCAA, and other popular sports leagues had opposed the sports betting there and at other New Jersey locations.

More Chemical Weapons Activity Spotted at Syrian Base
5 hours ago

"The Pentagon said Tuesday the United States has seen chemical weapons activity at Syrian air base used in past chemical attack." A Pentagon spokesman confirmed what the White House first said Monday night: that "Bashar Assad appears to be taking some of the same actions he took before a chemical weapons attack on his own people in April."


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.