Rep. Trey Gowdy on Tuesday defended his committee’s lengthy and expansive Benghazi probe, saying that it was intended to reveal the facts and not to torpedo Hillary Clinton’s presidential chances.
The South Carolina Republican, a former federal prosecutor, insisted that former House speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and current speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) never “asked me to do anything about presidential politics” on the panel, which was formed in May 2014.
“My job is to report facts,” Gowdy told reporters. “You can draw whatever conclusions you want to draw.”
Gowdy appeared with other Republican members of the select panel at a news conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill to present his 800-page report on the events surrounding the September 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic outpost and a CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
Only the committee’s Republicans participated in the news conference, emphasizing the highly charged and partisan nature of the panel’s work. The committee was formed two years ago and has spent at least $7 million on the probe.
The report provided no new evidence of specific wrongdoing by then-Secretary of State Clinton. Its overall narrative does not differ substantially from other reports issued by Congress. It implicates intelligence and military leaders with failing to scramble an adequate response in the hours after the initial attack.
The probe has been frequently called a partisan witch hunt by Democrats, with Gowdy and his Democratic counterparts on the committee — led by Rep. Elijah E.Cummings (D-Md.) — often clashing over witness interviews and testimony. Relationships between the panel members deteriorated in recent months, with Republicans charging Democrats with “leaking” witness transcripts and Democrats countering that Republicans were misleading the public with their descriptions of the interviews.
Gowdy said there was new information unearthed by the investigation, which he said included interviews with 81 new witnesses and the review of 75,000 additional pages of documents. The most prominent witness was Clinton, who remained calm under a marathon grilling before the committee last October.
Huma Abedin, Clinton’s friend and personal aide; Cheryl Mills, a top lawyer and adviser to Clinton; and Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s top foreign-policy aide, also testified during the probe.
“You didn’t know about any of the emails from Ambassador Stevens,” Gowdy said Tuesday. “You didn’t know that a single U.S. military asset did not meet a single designated timeline. . . . All of that is new.”
“Color me shocked that they are critical of our report,” Gowdy said of Democrats, accusing them of being “serial leakers of information” during the two-year investigation.
Benghazi-panel Democrats did not sign on to the report released Tuesday. They offered their own version of events, which charged that the panel “squandered millions of taxpayer dollars” on the probe.
Two Republican panel members — Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Mike Pompeo (Kan.) — issued a more harshly worded supplement to the full report, and the full panel won’t vote on the report until July 8.
“Secretary Clinton failed to lead,” Pompeo and Jordan wrote. “She missed the last, clear chance to protect her people.”
Without a true smoking gun that would assign more legitimate blame to Clinton, calls from lawmakers to move on echoed throughout Capitol Hill on Tuesday — at least from Democrats.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which released its own report in 2014, charged that the Benghazi committee’s report was “blatantly political,” “squandered $7 million of taxpayer funds” and “diverted significant Defense Department, State Department and intelligence community resources.”
“And what do we have to show for it?” Feinstein continued. “Yet another report that finds no wrongdoing by Secretary Clinton.”
And Clinton — now the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee — slammed Republicans for failing to act in a bipartisan manner and for the GOP’s conduct during the investigation.
“The Republicans on the House Benghazi Committee are finishing their work in the same, partisan way that we’ve seen from them since the beginning,” campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement.
“The Committee report has not found anything to contradict the conclusions of the multiple, earlier investigations,” Fallon added. He contended that the probe’s “chief goal is to politicize the deaths of four brave Americans in order to try to attack the Obama administration and hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”
Perhaps the most enduring legacy of this Benghazi panel was its unearthing of emails it requested, bringing to light the existence of a private email server that Clinton used as secretary of state. The panel demanded Clinton’s emails in July 2014, and the State Department realized then that at least some of the relevant emails resided on a private server.
In December 2014, the department delivered 12 boxes filled with 30,000 emails to the select panel. The existence of Clinton’s private email server was disclosed in March 2015 by the New York Times.
Gowdy has said the email server was never a focus of his investigation, but the discovery has sparked several probes and dogged Clinton’s presidential bid.
From the start, the select panel was riddled with controversy. Then-Speaker Boehner created the select panel and appointed Gowdy after then-House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who conducted a lengthy investigation of the events, was sidelined.
Issa famously claimed that Clinton had personally issued a “stand down” order in which a CIA operative allegedly told his troops not to rush to the rescue of those in danger. That narrative repeatedly has been proven to lack any evidence, including by the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, which awarded the claim “Four Pinocchios.”
In June 2015, Issa tried to crash a Gowdy hearing featuring testimony from Sidney Blumenthal, a Clinton friend who had sent her emails about Libya. Gowdy escorted him out.
Following Boehner’s ouster came a major misstep by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in September, when he told Sean Hannity during his campaign to replace Boehner as speaker: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought.”
McCarthy ultimately dropped out of the speaker’s race, but much of the air came out of the anticipation around Clinton’s October testimony before the select panel. Republicans were widely panned for seemingly extracting no new information from Clinton in the 11-hour testimony.
Also in October, ex-Air Force Reserve Maj. Bradley Podliska, a former GOP committee investigator, sued the panel and Gowdy, claiming he was improperly fired for refusing to focus the investigation on Clinton.
The panel sought to dismiss the lawsuit, and Podliska in March dropped any mention of Clinton from his claim, instead arguing that he was dismissed illegally because of his leave to serve in the Air Force Reserve.
Among the panel’s findings released Tuesday was that a CIA intelligence assessment dated two days after the Benghazi attack was “rife with errors.”
One such error was a simple word substitution that had “major implications” in how the administration spoke of the attacks: A CIA report that told of how “Extremists Capitalized on Benghazi Protests” actually should have said “Extremists Capitalized on Cairo Protest,” the panel reported.
“Nothing could have reached Benghazi because nothing was ever headed to Benghazi,” Gowdy stated. “Not a single wheel of a single U.S. military asset had even turned toward Libya”
Gowdy rebuked the military and Washington leaders for failing to make convincing moves to rush assistance to Benghazi once they knew Americans were under attack there — even if it would have been difficult for that help to arrive in time.
“Washington had access to real-time information,” Gowdy continued, “but that real-time information did not inform and instruct the actions” that were being taken.
The Obama administration has argued that the eight-hour span in which the attacks took place was simply not enough time to muster an effective response. But the panel’s Republicans seemed to blame the administration for not trying hard enough anyway.