“Multiple Republican admissions over the past month have made clear to the American people what we have been witnessing firsthand inside the Select Committee for the past year — Republicans are spending millions of taxpayer dollars on a partisan campaign to damage Secretary Clinton’s bid for president,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the panel’s ranking member, said in a statement.
The transcript, which totals 307 pages, provides a look at how Republicans approach private interviews with people in Clinton’s inner circle amid accusations that the committee is politically targeting the Democratic presidential front-runner.
Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) has denied that the investigation is politically motivated.
Over the course of many hours, Republican and Democratic staff alternated time questioning Mills, with lawmakers jumping in on occasion, the transcript shows. Republicans tended to bring up a wider range of topics than Democrats. As the interview started, they asked Mills detailed questions about her history with the Clinton family, and toward the end, focused their inquiries on matters related to Clinton’s private e-mail server.
On Benghazi, GOP staff and lawmakers asked for a precise account of exactly when, where and how Mills found out specific details about the 2012 attacks, as well as how the attacks were characterized and understood within the State Department on the night they occurred.
Republican investigators spent considerable time asking Mills what Clinton knew on the night of the attacks, how she found out and whether she was engaged with the government’s response.
Describing Clinton as very engaged, Mills said the secretary’s role was in part to ensure that Libya was providing sufficient protection to U.S. diplomats and to alert the Libyan government about the coming U.S. response where protection was lacking.
“It was my experience that she was, obviously, not only on the night of but as we were looking down the road on other instances, frequently either calling leaders or negotiating for our people to go in — in one instance, we had to do that, and they had to go in a particular way — and also having conversations, in some instances cajoling, in some instances demanding that these countries protect our facilities,” Mills told the investigators.
Later, Republicans asked about Clinton’s decision not to appear on the Sunday political shows after the attacks and whether Clinton and then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice talked about what Rice would say when Rice appeared on the shows. In several interviews that followed, Rice described the Benghazi attacks as a response to a controversial U.S.-made video, comments that elicited strong criticism from Republicans.
Asked whether Clinton and Rice discussed talking points for the shows, Mills said: “I don’t recall [Clinton] ever having indicated that, certainly to me. And, given all the fervor that happened after the fact, I would have imagined it. But I don’t know that.”
Republicans went on to press Mills with questions about whether the State Department inappropriately influenced the Accountability Review Board’s report on Benghazi or the testimony of department officials to members of Congress. Mills denied this.
GOP staff also walked through the details of how the State Department produced documents for investigators. Mills said the process was professional and unbiased, and said she had no evidence that anyone at the State Department removed or scrubbed documents that might be damaging.
Clinton’s private e-mail server was the focus of the last hour of the interview.
According to Mills, she played little role in setting up the e-mail system or making decisions about how it would be managed. She told the committee that she was aware that Clinton had decided to use a personal account for her public business, something she believed was similar to what had been done by former secretary of state Colin Powell. However, she said she did not know at the time that the server that had been used by Clinton’s presidential campaign had been installed at Clinton’s home to manage the account.
“I’ve learned subsequent to all of these matters that have been raised,” she said.
She also said she was unaware at the time that Bryan Pagliano, a former campaign worker who had been hired by the State Department’s technology office, was also working on the side to maintain the server. Clinton has said she and her husband paid Pagliano separately for the service. He has refused to answer questions from the committee about the set-up, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
“That was not something I had knowledge of during the time period I was at the Department,” she said of Pagliano’s side job for the Clintons.
On the other hand, Mills described herself as intimately involved in the 2014 process of deciding which of Clinton’s e-mails related to public business and should be turned over to the State Department and which were purely personal and could be deleted.
She said she first became aware of questions about Clinton’s e-mail in the summer of 2014, when she was alerted by David Wade, chief of staff to Secretary of State John F. Kerry, and Jen Psaki, a department spokeswoman, that Clinton’s use of a private e-mail account would be revealed in documents turned over to the Benghazi committee and was likely to spark media inquiries. Mills said she then consulted with Philippe Reines, a former communications staffer to Clinton, about how to handle the issue — a sign that Mills understood the potential public relations problem facing the former secretary.
Ultimately, Mills said she was confident that the process she oversaw, along with Clinton attorney David Kendall, appropriately sifted all of Clinton’s records and that all those containing references to public business are now in the possession of the State Department.
The transcript shows that Mills wanted her interview to be conducted publicly, or, barring that, for the transcript to be released.
“We made our request [for a public interview],” Mills’s lawyer, Beth Wilkinson, said during the interview. “It was turned down. I would only ask that at the end of the day, because this is an unclassified hearing, as was just explained to us, that the transcript be released publicly.”