With Hilary Clinton scheduled to testify later this week, partisan infighting on the House Select Committee on Benghazi has reached a fever pitch. The ranking Democratic member called out Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) on Sunday for mischaracterizing Clinton’s handling of classified information on her private email account, and Gowdy spent the day again defending the committee’s work against charges of political gamesmanship. On Monday, Democrats on the committee ratcheted up the pressure on Gowdy again, releasing a report that aimed to debunk “wild Republican conspiracy theories” about Clinton’s response to the 2012 attacks.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) launched the first salvo early Sunday in a scathing letter that called for Gowdy to apologize to Clinton after the CIA debunked a claim he made earlier this month about the private email account the Democratic presidential frontrunner used exclusively during her tenure at the State Department.
Gowdy had written in an Oct. 7 letter to Cummings that a new batch of emails the committee received from Clinton included a March 2011 email from confidante Sidney Blumenthal containing the identity of a CIA source in Libya. The chairman argued that Clinton mishandled that highly sensitive information by forwarding the email to an aide.
“This information, the name of a human source, is some of the most protected information in our intelligence community, the release of which could jeopardize not only national security but also human lives,” Gowdy wrote. “Armed with that information, Secretary Clinton forwarded the email to a colleague—debunking her claim that she never sent any classified information from her private email address.”
But Cummings wrote the CIA informed the committee late Saturday that the name of the CIA source was not classified information. Committee correspondence obtained by Newsweek showed the agency did tell the panel it didn’t deem any of the 127 emails between Clinton and Blumenthal it reviewed to be classified.
“Contrary to your claims, the CIA yesterday informed both the Republican and Democratic staffs of the Select Committee that they do not consider the information you highlighted in your letter to be classified,” Cummings wrote.
Cummings’ letter came at a time when the committee has been more politicized than ever and is gearing up for its biggest interview to date. Clinton, who remained atop the polls of the Democratic presidential primary after her first debate performance, was scheduled to testify before the panel in a public hearing on Thursday.
The ranking member’s letter also followed comments from two Republican congressman suggesting that the select committee targeted Clinton in order to damage her presidential prospects. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy infamously credited the committee with dragging down Clinton’s poll numbers before attempting to walk those remarks back. The damage was done, however, and McCarthy dropped out of the race for House speaker a week later. Then Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) added fuel to the fire when he said on a local radio show that he thought the select committee “was designed to go after” Clinton.
Cummings said in his letter that Gowdy’s claim that Clinton mishandled classified information was further proof of McCarthy’s “gaffe.”
“Unfortunately, the standard operating procedure of this Select Committee has become to put out information publicly that is inaccurate and out of context in order to attack Secretary Clinton for political reasons,” he wrote.
The chairman conceded in a response to Cummings later Sunday that the CIA did not make redactions to the Blumenthal email. But he asserted that someone in the Obama administration did redact the name in the version of the email cleared for public release.
“The fact that the CIA says it didn’t do it does not mean the material was not sensitive or classified,” Gowdy wrote. “And in fact, additional information remains in the document that ordinarily would be considered highly sensitive. This appears to mean either Mr. Blumenthal conveyed false and unreliable information to Secretary Clinton about Libya and misrepresented it, or the review process is faulty or has been politicized.”
In a Sunday morning appearance on CBS’ “Face The Nation,” Gowdy said Clinton’s appearance at Thursday’s hearing would be about the Benghazi attacks and not her presidential campaign.
“I have told Republican colleagues and friends ‘shut up talking about things that you don’t know anything about,’” Gowdy said. “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.”
Gowdy faces even more pressure from Democrats going into Thursday’s hearing now that Cummings has called for the select committee to be disbanded. The latest blow came as Democrats counter-attacked again Monday with the release of a 124-page report that culled excerpts from more than 50 of the panel’s interview transcripts and depositions to debunk claims about Clinton’s response to the Benghazi attacks.
“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.”