The chairman of the House committee on Benghazi struck back Sunday morning at a fired staff member who is accusing the panel of engaging in a partisan probe to tarnish Hillary Rodham Clinton, with the lawmaker saying that the claims appear newly manufactured and that the staffer himself appeared obsessed with the Democratic presidential candidate.
Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), in his first public statement on the controversy, said committee investigator Bradley Podliska never mentioned any concern about Clinton or politics while fighting his dismissal from the committee staff this fall. In his formal complaints, Gowdy said, the investigator had repeatedly asserted only that the panel discriminated against him because he was an Air Force reservist who periodically had to leave his job for reserve duty.
“Until his Friday conversations with media, this staffer has never mentioned Secretary Clinton as a cause of his termination, and he did not cite Clinton’s name in a legally mandated mediation,” Gowdy said. “The record makes it clear he himself was focused on Clinton improperly and was instructed to stop, and that issues with his conduct were noted on the record as far back as April.”
Attorneys for Podliska, an intelligence analyst who describes himself as a conservative Republican, disputed Gowdy’s claims, saying their client, a conservative Republican with a career in military intelligence, had been fired after complaining about the committee’s obsessive focus on Clinton and after he was assigned Air Force reserve duty overseas.
“The chairman’s comments are false,” said Joseph Napiltonia, one of three attorneys representing Podliska.
Podliska told The Washington Post in a statement Saturday that the committee trained its sights almost exclusively on Clinton after the revelation in March that she used a private e-mail server during her tenure as secretary of state.
“My non-partisan investigative work conflicted with the interests of the Republican leadership, who focused their investigation primarily on Secretary Clinton and her aides,” Podliska said in a statement.
In an on-camera interview on CNN on Sunday morning, he said Gowdy’s committee, which has spent $4.6 million over the course of its investigation, pulled resources away from other inquiries and has pursued a “partisan investigation” focused almost solely on Clinton and the State Department under her four-year tenure.
According to interviews and documents reviewed by The Post, Podliska asked committee interns in June to help put together a PowerPoint presentation focused on the whereabouts and statements of Clinton and National Security Council members in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on a U.S. diplomatic mission and CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya. The attacks killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
“What the record makes clear is he himself was focused on Clinton and was instructed to stop, and that issues with his conduct and performance were noted on the record as far back as April,” Gowdy said. “This individual was hired as a former intelligence staffer to focus on intelligence, not the politics of White House talking points.”
Podliska’s attorneys said that the PowerPoint claim — as with others made in the past two days by Gowdy and other Republicans on the committee — is untrue. Napiltonia said that “the crux” of the lawsuit they plan to file against the committee maintains that the panel’s Republican leadership was disenchanted with Podliska because he had to perform military service.
The lawmaker said he finds the timing of the claims of committee politicization disturbing, coming just a week after controversial statements by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who said the panel had been “successful” because Clinton’s poll numbers were dropping.
“On September 11th, in his mediation filing, this staffer specifically claimed his reserve status as a basis for his termination,” Gowdy said. “I would note first this staffer’s reserve duty was approved both times it was requested.”
The developments come at a difficult time for committee Republicans, who plan to question Clinton on Oct. 22 despite growing requests to shut down the inquiry and claims that it is a political witch hunt.
The ranking Democrat on the Benghazi panel, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), said Saturday evening that Podliska’s allegations provide more proof of serious bias by the committee’s majority. Gowdy rejected that characterization.
“This committee always has been, and will be, focused on the four brave Americans we lost in Benghazi and providing the final, definitive accounting of the Benghazi terrorist attacks for the American people,” he said Sunday.
Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.