WASHINGTON — South Carolina GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy, who has insisted for months that his panel’s investigation into the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi is non-political, was forced to play defense once again after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., praised the probe for hurting Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
McCarthy, who’s likely to succeed John Boehner as House speaker, told Fox News on Wednesday that Clinton’s poll numbers are sagging because the committee’s work has exposed her as “untrustable.”
Gowdy, who said he watched McCarthy’s interview, again denied the Benghazi panel has a political motive.
“I would just encourage people to look at what is done as opposed necessarily to what is said,” he said Wednesday. “If you look at what we’ve done, I never mentioned (Clinton’s) name during a committee hearing. We’ve interviewed 54 people, and not a single one named Clinton. Of the next 50, one will be named Clinton.”
Clinton is scheduled to testify publicly before the committee Oct. 22.
Democrats said McCarthy’s comments confirm what they’ve suspected all along.
“I’m calling on Republicans to shut (the committee) down,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday.
Clinton was secretary of State in 2012 when terrorists attacked U.S. facilities in Benghazi, killing four people, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Multiple congressional investigations and an independent investigation of the State Department have led to improved diplomatic security at U.S. outposts around the world and have repositioned military resources to respond to future attacks.
But they have not unearthed evidence supporting Republicans’ assertions that administration officials deliberately mischaracterized the attacks as a spontaneous response to an anti-Muslim video instead of an act of terrorism.
House Republicans created the special Benghazi committee in May 2014 to continue the probe.
The investigation eventually revealed Clinton’s use of a private email server while at the State Department, raising questions about her motives, whether she had properly preserved official emails, and whether classified information had been compromised.
“Before the email story happened, nobody really paid a lot of attention to our committee,” Gowdy said. “It wasn’t in the news. I get why people are interested in that. But the email is a very small part of what we’re doing. In fact, if it doesn’t relate to Libya or Benghazi emails, it’s no part of our committee.”
Boehner, who will leave Congress at the end of the month, also defended the Benghazi panel on Thursday.
“This investigation has never been about former Secretary of State Clinton and never will be,” Boehner said. “Indeed, the Select Committee’s very existence is only the result of the Obama administration’s obstruction of routine congressional investigations and its failure to properly comply with subpoenas and document requests. The fact remains that Secretary Clinton and the Obama administration have done everything they can to delay, derail, and stop this investigation.”
Democrats now allege the committee’s taxpayer-funded investigation has violated ethics rules.
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, joined Pelosi in calling on the committee to disband.
“The Benghazi Committee is now one of the longest congressional investigations in history — longer than the investigations into Watergate, Iran-Contra, Hurricane Katrina, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy,” he said. “And after 16 months and $4.5 million spent, the Benghazi Committee has held exactly three hearings and uncovered nothing that wasn’t addressed by the numerous other investigations into the attack. Even those who wanted to give this committee the benefit of the doubt should now admit it’s time to shut it down.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Benghazi committee, said Democrats won’t quit the panel.
“Obviously, this is an unethical abuse of millions of taxpayer dollars and a crass assault on the memories of the four Americans who died, and I believe it should be halted immediately,” Cummings said. “However, I am not naïve in thinking Republicans will cease their political attacks on Secretary Clinton, which is why I will be in that room defending the truth.”
Committee Democrats, responding to Gowdy’s assertion that the investigation has not focused on Clinton, said that by the time Clinton testifies on Oct. 22, the committee will have interviewed or deposed eight current or former staffers on Clinton’s campaign, some of whom are former State Department employees.
Gowdy said the committee has worked almost entirely behind closed doors interviewing witnesses and reviewing documents.
“I cannot control what other people say. I control what we do,” Gowdy said. “I’m at peace that we’ve done the right things for the right reasons.”
Contributing: Paul Singer, USA TODAY
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