Benghazi Panel Erupts In Partisan War Over Transparency

Democrats want a vote on releasing the transcript of Sidney Blumenthal’s deposition, and Republicans say the State Department is dragging its feet on a committee request.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 16: House Select Committee on BenghaziChairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) speaks to reporters before a closed door meeting in the House Visitors Center at the U.S. Capitol June 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. The committee is expected to question Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime advisor to former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, about communication he had with Hillary Clinton around the time of the Sept. 11, 2011 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
National Journal
Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
June 24, 2015, 7:15 a.m.

Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats on the House Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Benghazi have a mes­sage for each oth­er: What are you hid­ing?

The two parties are fight­ing over which side is truly a friend of open­ness in the latest House GOP-led probe of the 2012 at­tack in Libya that killed four Amer­ic­ans, in­clud­ing Am­bas­sad­or Chris­toph­er Stevens

In the latest move, Demo­crats on the House Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Benghazi are seek­ing to boost polit­ic­al pres­sure on Re­pub­lic­ans to re­lease Sid­ney Blu­menth­al’s re­cent closed-door de­pos­ition be­fore the pan­el.

In a let­ter Wed­nes­day, all five of the pan­el’s Demo­crats ask the com­mit­tee’s GOP chair­man to sched­ule a pub­lic meet­ing and vote on a re­lease of the daylong de­pos­ition of the Hil­lary Clin­ton ally.

In 2011 and 2012, Blu­menth­al sent a series of mes­sages to Clin­ton about Liby­an in­tel­li­gence is­sues while she was sec­ret­ary of State, and he re­cently turned over mes­sages that hadn’t pre­vi­ously been provided to the com­mit­tee by the State De­part­ment.

Demo­crats are ob­ject­ing to Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Trey Gowdy’s re­cent re­lease of Blu­menth­al’s emails without the de­pos­ition tran­script, ar­guing that the tran­script would provide needed back­ground and con­text. Their new let­ter says they have a right to “in­sist” on a vote.

“We are writ­ing to of­fi­cially in­voke our right to in­sist on a vote of the Se­lect Com­mit­tee on our pro­pos­al to re­lease the tran­script of the de­pos­ition with Sid­ney Blu­menth­al pur­su­ant to the De­pos­ition Pro­ced­ures for the Se­lect Com­mit­tee on the Events Sur­round­ing the 2012 Ter­ror­ist At­tack in Benghazi, which were ad­op­ted by the House and prin­ted in the Con­gres­sion­al Re­cord on May 9, 2014,” it states.

The let­ter ar­gues that “the pub­lic re­cord has been dis­tor­ted by the se­lect­ive re­lease of Mr. Blu­menth­al’s emails without the full con­text of his de­pos­ition tran­script.”

Gowdy has said he’ll con­sider the re­lease and plans to hold a private meet­ing to dis­cuss it, rather than the pub­lic ses­sion and vote that Demo­crats are now de­mand­ing. Gowdy’s spokes­man struck back at Demo­crats Wed­nes­day.

“Chair­man Gowdy at­temp­ted to sched­ule a meet­ing so mem­bers could dis­cuss this mat­ter, but the Demo­crats chose to send out a press re­lease in­stead. They re­main uniquely fo­cused on any­thing oth­er than sub­stant­ively ad­van­cing the Benghazi in­vest­ig­a­tion,” spokes­man Jamal Ware said.

While pledging to weigh the re­lease, Gowdy laid out the case against re­lease in a June 22 let­ter to com­mit­tee Demo­crats. “Re­leas­ing tran­scripts can im­pact the re­col­lec­tions of oth­er wit­nesses, jeop­ard­ize the ef­fic­acy of the in­vest­ig­a­tion, alert wit­nesses to lines of in­quiry best not made pub­lic, and pub­li­cize per­son­al in­form­a­tion,” Gowdy wrote.

And Gowdy, for his part, has re­peatedly in re­cent days said that it’s the State De­part­ment and Demo­crats that are lack­ing in the trans­par­ency de­part­ment.

On Tues­day, he took aim at State for fail­ing, thus far, to say why about 60 emails that Blu­menth­al provided days be­fore his de­pos­ition wer­en’t pre­vi­ously provided by State.

Gowdy wants to know wheth­er State had them but did not pro­duce them in re­sponse to earli­er doc­u­ment re­quests or wheth­er they wer­en’t provided by Clin­ton when she turned over emails from her private serv­er to State late last year.

“State should im­me­di­ately pro­duce to the com­mit­tee emails that should have been pro­duced months ago or ex­plain why it is not in pos­ses­sion of these emails from Sec­ret­ary Clin­ton. Either re­sponse has rami­fic­a­tions to­ward a full pub­lic re­cord. This should be neither com­plic­ated nor time con­sum­ing,” he said in a state­ment Tues­day.

State De­part­ment spokes­man John Kirby has said in re­cent days that the de­part­ment is re­view­ing the mat­ter but has not provided a time frame.

More broadly, Gowdy has said State has largely failed, for months, to provide key doc­u­ments re­ques­ted by the pan­el, not­ably emails from 10 of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s seni­or aides at State.

Gowdy has also ques­tioned Demo­crats’ com­mit­ment to open­ness. His Ju­ly 22 let­ter to Eli­jah Cum­mings, the pan­el’s top Demo­crat, says Cum­mings’s com­mit­ment to trans­par­ency has not been “re­in­forced” with ac­tions. He said Cum­mings should call on Pres­id­ent Obama and Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry for “com­plete, timely” pro­duc­tion of doc­u­ments.

“The fail­ure to do so may al­low one to con­clude your call for trans­par­ency is more of a talk­ing point than a com­mit­ted prin­ciple,” Gowdy wrote.

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