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.
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Ben Geman
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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.

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