Hillary Clinton and the House Republicans battle over Benghazi subpoena

On July 7, 2015, Hillary Clinton sat down with CNN for her first national interview of the 2016 presidential campaign. In the interview, she discussed controversy surrounding her use of a private email server while secretary of state.

The House Benghazi Committee subpoenaed Hillary Clinton for her emails this past March. So why did she say she "never had a subpoena"?

On July 7, in her first national media interview since launching her bid for the Democratic nomination for president, Clinton defended her use of a private email server as secretary of state. CNN reporter Brianna Keilar asked Clinton how she chose which emails to turn over to the State Department, while also choosing to delete personal emails.

In the course of the discussion, Clinton said she "never had a subpoena." Right away, the House Benghazi Committee disputed that; the committee had announced back in March that it had issued a subpoena for all of Clinton’s emails related to the 2012 terrorist attack on a diplomatic compound in Libya.

After Clinton’s interview, committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., went a step further and released an image of the March 4 subpoena.

"I would not make this one public now, but after Sec. Clinton falsely claimed the committee did not subpoena her, I have no choice in order to correct the inaccuracy," Gowdy said.

Clinton’s statement seems like an obvious contradiction. However, as usual, it’s not so simple, for several reasons. Clinton and Keilar were talking over each other; Keilar made an incorrect assumption in her question; and Clinton and the Benghazi Committee Republicans had different time frames in mind.

Because of all this confusion, we aren’t going to put Clinton, Gowdy or anyone on the Truth-O-Meter in this debate. We’ll just lay out the context and the facts.

But point blank: Both Clinton and the Republicans who attacked her claim are playing misleading games here.

Keilar started by asking how Clinton decided to delete the emails, and Clinton repeated what she’s said before, that the deletions were permitted and that other secretaries of state had done the same thing. Then Keilar and Clinton started talking over each other:

Keilar: "But you said they -- that they did the same thing, that they used a personal server and --"

Clinton: (interrupting) "Well, a personal email."

Keilar: "-- while facing a subpoena, deleted emails from them?"

Clinton: "You know, you're starting with so many assumptions that are -- I've never had a subpoena. There is -- again, let's take a deep breath here. Everything I did was permitted by law and regulation."

Watching the video, it’s clear Keilar asked Clinton if and why she decided to delete emails off her server while facing a subpoena. But from what we know, Clinton was not facing a subpoena when the emails were deleted; she was only subpoenaed months later by the House Republicans. Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill emphasized this point when we asked about it.

Here’s the timeline

In October 2014, the State Department requested that former secretaries of state turn over their emails to the department, as part of its review of Benghazi-related documents and general records upkeep.

In November 2014, the Benghazi Committee asked (a request, not a subpoena) the State Department for communications and documents about Benghazi for 11 top officials that included Clinton and her senior staff. The committee also asked Clinton’s attorney for her private emails related to Benghazi and Libya.

In December 2014, Clinton obliged with the State Department request, sending over 55,000 pages of emails within the next couple of months. Clinton said in a later press conference that she deleted personal emails as part of the process of answering the request; House Republicans have agreed with that timeline. Gowdy said in a statement that Clinton deleted her emails in fall 2014

On March 2, 2015, media reports revealed that Clinton used a private email exclusively.

Two days after that, on March 4, the Benghazi Committee issued their subpoena to Clinton.

So the timeline generally supports Clinton’s contention that she was correcting Keilar’s claim that she deleted emails while a subpoena was pending. She deleted emails in fall 2014 after she was asked to turn over email related to Benghazi. The official subpoena didn’t come until March 2015.

But Clinton’s choice of words is still somewhat misleading, especially to people who haven’t followed the controversy. "I’ve never had a subpoena" implies that up to the day of the interview, she has not received a subpoena related to her emails, which is incorrect.

Additionally, in the months when she was sifting through these emails, there was a pending formal request -- though not an official subpoena -- for the emails. So she knew at the time that the State Department and the Benghazi Committee wanted to look at them.

On the other hand, House Republicans seized on Clinton’s claim without regard for the nuance of the question she was responding to -- leading people who did not watch the interview in full to think Clinton said something that she really didn’t.

They should be very familiar with the timeline here, as well. Suggesting that Clinton deleted emails while facing a subpoena contradicts what we know about the controversy so far.