“Huma has been nothing but entirely cooperative with the Committee’s requests, yet it remains unclear why the committee is focused on her, given her lack of knowledge about the events surrounding Benghazi,” Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill said in a statement.
“The Committee’s focus on Huma (as opposed to numerous intelligence and defense community officials still outstanding) is additional evidence that the actual attack in Benghazi, and its lessons about how we might better protect diplomats serving in dangerous places, are the last things on the committee’s mind.”
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) defended Republicans’ decision to call Abedin, saying her experience makes her a relevant witness.
“The purpose was very clear. Ms. Abedin was a senior official at the State Department at all the relevant times and so was privy to and had access to information that pertained to all of the things that surrounded the events in Benghazi, Libya,” Pompeo told reporters.
Following the session just before 6 p.m., Abedin read a brief statement before leaving the Capitol saying she answered all the committee’s questions to the best of her ability.
“I came here today to be as helpful as I could be to the committee,” she said. “I wanted to honor the service of those lost in the Benghazi attacks. I am proud to have served at the State Department and I was honored to work with Secretary Clinton and alongside distinguished diplomats.”
Abedin’s interview took place less than a week before Clinton delivers public testimony before the Benghazi panel, which is mired in controversy after two House Republicans and a former committee aide, Brad Podliska, suggested it is aimed at damaging Clinton’s presidential bid.
Democrats have been on the offensive since House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) earlier this month credited the committee with lowering Clinton’s poll numbers. He has since tried to walk back these comments but the anger they stirred among Republicans who felt it undermined the panel’s work was a factor in his decision to drop out of the race to succeed Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
New fuel was added to the fire this week after Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) also commented on whether the committee’s work is political.
“Sometimes the biggest sin you can commit in D.C. is to tell the truth,” Hanna told Keeler in the Morning, a radio show in upstate New York, on Wednesday. “This may not be politically correct, but I think that there was a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after people and an individual, Hillary Clinton.”
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the committee’s chairman, has aggressively defended his panel’s work, arguing it is solely focused on investigating the 2012 attacks and has publicly scolded both McCarthy and Hanna.
“There are seven members of the Benghazi Committee who are intimately familiar with the work of the committee, the motives behind the work, and the results of that work. Congressman Hanna is not one of them,” he said in a statement Thursday. “It is unfortunate when claims are made by those who do not know what the committee has done, why it has done it, or the results of its work.”
Pompeo also pushed back on claims that the committee is politically motivated.
“It doesn’t make a difference what anybody says. We have a focused mission that has not changed one bit since May of 2014, and I promise you won’t change today, won’t change next Thursday [when Clinton testifies] and this investigation will go on after next Thursday,” he said.
Abedin is the latest in a string of close Clinton associates to be interviewed by the panel, including former Clinton chief of staff Cheryl Mills and old friend Sidney Blumenthal. Her interview began at 10 a.m. and was expected to last most of the afternoon.
Only three lawmakers of the 12-member committee were present at Friday’s interview: Cummings, the panel’s top Democrat; Pompeo and Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.). Gowdy had not arrived as of 12:30 p.m., and a committee spokesman declined to say why.
“Chairman Gowdy is not able to make every interview. But he does talk with the staff before each interview to go over the questions to be asked, and he trusts his colleagues and staff to then ask substantive, investigatory questions,” said Jamal Ware, Republican communications director for the Benghazi panel.
Cummings, who said he attended the interview “out of respect” for Abedin, called the event more evidence that Republicans are going after Clinton.
“[Abedin] had no policy responsibilities and no operational responsibilities and was not with Sec. Clinton on the night of this tragedy,” Cummings said.
“That only leads one to ask the question: did the gentlemen — Congressman McCarthy, Congressman Hanna and Mr. Podliksa — tell the truth? The question also becomes whether this is a taxpayer-funded effort to derail the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. And to be very frank with you, when I take the statements of those three gentlemen and add to what we have been saying all along … they all match. It comes together.”