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Benghazi panel’s top Democrat calls for end to investigation

House Select Committee on Benghazi chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and House Select Committee on Benghazi ranking member Elijah Cummings, D- Md. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The top Democrat on the House Select Committee on Benghazi called Monday for the panel to cease its work, citing his view that Republicans are using the probe as a political tool to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) previously had not explicitly demanded the end of the investigation. His comments came with the release Monday morning of a 124-page Democratic report that pushed back on Republican criticism of Clinton’s handling of the situation in Benghazi, Libya as secretary of state. Clinton is scheduled to testify before the Benghazi panel in a public hearing on Thursday.

“Republicans have now admitted repeatedly that they are spending millions of taxpayer dollars to damage Secretary Clinton’s campaign for president,” Cummings said in a statement. “This report shows that no witnesses we interviewed substantiated these wild Republican conspiracy theories about Secretary Clinton and Benghazi.  It’s time to bring this taxpayer-funded fishing expedition to an end.”

Tensions between Benghazi panel Republicans and Democrats are rising dramatically ahead of the Clinton hearing. Over the weekend, Cummings and Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) engaged in a dispute over Gowdy’s charge that Clinton once forwarded an e-mail containing classified information — the name of a CIA source in Libya. Cummings, citing the CIA’s communications with the Benghazi committee, said the source was not classified. Gowdy later appeared to have accidentally released the name of the CIA source in his response to Cummings, Yahoo News reported.

[Clinton touts record to turn tables on GOP critics ahead of high-stakes hearings]

“Why is every single bullet point in the Democrats’ press release about Clinton and not a single one about the four people who were killed or about providing better security in the future?” Select Committee spokesman Jamal Ware said in response to the Democratic report. “This is further proof of the Democrats’ obsession with covering for Hillary Clinton instead of investigating the Benghazi terrorist attacks.”

Republicans, Ware added, “will continue to wait until after hearing from all witnesses, up to and including the very last one, before drawing conclusions, because that is what serious investigations do.”

The new Democratic report includes nearly 100 pages of previously unreleased material from interviews with witnesses throughout the Benghazi investigation. As part of their interview strategy, Democrats asked witnesses a series of standard questions about GOP criticisms of Clinton on matters related to Benghazi, where four Americans were killed in an attack on a diplomatic compound in 2012.

The report stated that several Republican accusations against Clinton — including the idea that she ordered then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to stand down on the night of the attack — were thoroughly unsubstantiated by the more than 50 witnesses interviewed by the House Benghazi panel.

“As our report released today makes clear, after seventeen months and millions of taxpayer dollars spent, the Select Committee on Benghazi has uncovered nothing that alters our core understanding of the facts as revealed by the other eight investigations,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the panel, in a statement.

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“When you consider the committee’s obsessive focus on attacking Secretary Clinton, the reason becomes quite clear: the Majority has little interest in the events in Benghazi except to the degree they can be used to diminish her standing in the polls … It is time to end this costly and partisan abuse.”

The report also defends Clinton against suggestions that she personally approved a reduction in security in Benghazi prior to the attacks, and that she or her aides oversaw an effort at the State Department to get rid of embarrassing documents. The report includes the text of exchanges between Democratic staff and witnesses for the investigation in which witnesses denied having evidence to support GOP claims against Clinton.

To the former U.S. deputy chief of mission in Libya, whose name was not identified, for example, staff asked: “Do you have any evidence that Secretary of State Clinton ordered Secretary of Defense Panetta to ‘stand down’ on the night of the attacks?” and “Do you have any evidence that Secretary of State Clinton issued any kind of order to Secretary of Defense Panetta on the night of the attacks?” The witness answered “no” in both cases.

Republicans are on the defensive ahead of Thursday’s hearing after two GOP lawmakers and a former Republican Benghazi committee staffer suggested the investigation was politically motivated. Gowdy denies this, along with his colleagues on the panel.

Republicans outside the committee should “shut up talking about things that you don’t know anything about,” Gowdy said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “And unless you’re on the committee, you have no idea what we have done, why we have done it and what new facts we have found,” he added.