Blumenthal said the memos to Clinton were forwarded to “use or not, as she saw fit,” describing the Democratic presidential candidate as a “longtime friend.” He said Republicans had pursued them because of their blatant desire to harm the former first lady’s 2016 White House bid, echoing Democratic criticism of the Benghazi probe.
“My testimony has shed no light on the events of Benghazi, nor could it, because I have no firsthand knowledge of what happened,” he told reporters in prepared remarks late Tuesday, addressing questions to his attorney.
“It seems obvious that my appearance before this committee was for one reason and one reason only, and that reason is politics.”
The top Republican investigating Benghazi, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), criticized Blumenthal for passing along information from someone who “may very well have had business interests in Libya.”
The source, named by Politico as former CIA division chief Tyler Drumheller, was not confirmed by Gowdy or Blumenthal. The news outlet identified him as a former CIA officer who was in a Libyan business venture.
“You can determine for yourself whether someone who has a pecuniary interest in a country, how that might impact the accuracy of the information that was passed on,” Gowdy said.
Blumenthal corresponded with Clinton about the state of affairs in Libya before and after the attacks on the diplomatic compound in September 2012, which left four dead, including former U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stephens.
Republicans are now questioning Blumenthal’s information and whether it shaped Clinton’s Libya policy and reaction to the attack, which killed four Americans.
Tuesday’s hearing was the first deposition by the year-old Benghazi panel and a significant moment for Republicans leading the probe. Headed into the 2016 presidential election, the Benghazi attacks remain a significant issue for the GOP and one feature of the party’s criticism of Clinton’s foreign policy.
Gowdy framed Clinton as irresponsible for welcoming and forwarding the Blumenthal memos since the government never vetted their author or the sources behind his information.
“You have an intelligence apparatus at your disposal. We have a CIA. Why would you not rely on your own vetted, sourced intelligence agency?” he said.
Gowdy suggested that questioning Blumenthal brings the panel one step closer to bringing in Clinton herself as a witness. Before that, he said, he wants the State Department to release more of her Libya-related emails first.
“She’s been insistent that she is only going to come once. So I have to be equally insistent that that one time be constructive, and that means I need the emails,” Gowdy said.
Democrats accused Republicans of one aim: damaging Clinton’s presidential bid.
“If this witness weren’t close to the Clintons, there is no way he would be here today,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the Benghazi panel. “This is all about GOP efforts to try to attack a likely Democratic nominee for president.”
Gowdy declined to say whether his probe was relevant to voters’ view of Clinton. He denied that the effort has a political edge.
“I fail to see how we’re playing politics by talking to someone who sent a large number of memos to the top diplomat we have during the relevant time period,” he said.
There was more than a little element of drama in Tuesday’s proceedings.
At one point, former Benghazi chief investigator Darrell Issa, a California Republican who conducted his own inquiry in the last Congress, entered the deposition room.
He walked out shortly after with Gowdy, and the two began a brief but heated exchange in a hallway.
After a few moments, Issa stormed off in visible anger.
Gowdy declined to discuss their exchange.
“You’d have to ask him,” he said.
It’s just the latest in a series of flashpoints over the controversy known simply as “Benghazi.”
The deposition exposed simmering tensions between Gowdy and his staff and Cummings and his staff.
Correspondence that Blumenthal first provided the committee last Friday provided the latest example.
Gowdy suggested that the documents, which have not been released publicly, were withheld by either Blumenthal or the State Department during previous document requests.
Yet Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the panel’s top Democrat, said Gowdy’s distinct and evolving document requests to Blumenthal and the administration explain why the emails were not immediately produced.
Cummings dismissed the idea that the new emails were significant. He said he didn’t recall any contents related to the Benghazi attack specifically.
“I can say that there is no smoking gun,” the Maryland Democrat twice told reporters.
“I don’t understand that colloquialism,” Gowdy fired back later during a gaggle with reporters. “Is that the only reason you talk to somebody, because you’re looking for a smoking knife or smoking gun?”