With former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set to testify before the House Select Committee on Benghazi on Thursday, Republicans and Democrats disagree on a host of issues surrounding the committee’s work.
Representatives of the two parties took to the Sunday news shows to frame the committee’s efforts ahead of Clinton’s testimony. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the committee’s chair, went on CBS’ Face the Nation to tell members of his party to "shut up" about the committee after multiple lawmakers suggested the committee was a ploy against Clinton. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., followed Gowdy’s interview and called the investigation "politically motivated."
Meanwhile, two other committee members sparred on NBC’s Meet the Press. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., argued over basic facts about the investigation, such as whether or not Republicans on the committee interviewed witnesses without involving Democrats.
Because much of what the committee has done is still under wraps, PolitiFact isn’t able to put such claims to the Truth-O-Meter. But as Clinton’s appointment to testify approaches, we thought it would be helpful to lay out some key questions on which the parties differ in their views on Benghazi and the committee investigating it.
We’ll look at four discrete areas below.
A broad look at the Benghazi attack, or a focus on Clinton?
Following comments from Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., that suggested that the Benghazi committee was a political tool to weaken Clinton, one Republican lawmaker and one former committee staffer went public to agree with McCarthy.
Last week, U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., told a New York radio station on Oct. 15 that McCarthy’s claims about the committee’s obsession with Clinton were correct. "This may not be politically correct, but I think that there was a big part of this investigation that was designed to go after people and an individual, Hillary Clinton," Hanna said in the interview.
Meanwhile, a former investigator has also spoken out against the committee’s approach. Bradley F. Podliska, a major in the Air Force Reserve, claims he was fired unlawfully after he pushed for the committee to focus on a thorough investigation of the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks, rather than zeroing in on just Clinton.
On Face the Nation, Gowdy discussed these accusations, asserting that the committee was focused only on the facts behind the terrorist attacks, not attempting to weaken Clinton politically. Here are a couple excerpts:
Gowdy, on Face the Nation: "We have done 50 witnesses… We have 50,000 new documents. Less than 5 percent have anything to do with Secretary Clinton. … I have told my own Republican colleagues and friends, ‘Shut up talking about things that you don't know anything about. And 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.’"
Cummings, a ranking member of the Benghazi committee, immediately disputed Gowdy’s description of the investigation.
Cummings, on Face the Nation: "The families came in with tears in their eyes literally and said, ‘Please do not make this a political football.’ That's exactly what's happened. … I'm calling on Mr. Gowdy to make sure that he releases all the transcripts of all these people that he claims that we have interviewed, because I got to tell you, most of them were State Department people or they were Hillary Clinton's former aides, people that worked in her campaigns, speechwriters. So, when he talks about these 50 witnesses, we still have been zeroed in on Hillary Clinton."
Cummings added, "One of the things I'm going to be doing this week is release our report, the Democrats' report of excerpts from the various unclassified transcriptions, where I can tell you that, of all the things that Mr. Gowdy and others have been accusing Hillary Clinton of over the last three years, not a witness verifies any of that.
On Meet the Press, Schiff also accused the committee of conducting a witch hunt.
Schiff, on Meet the Press: "The way this committee has operated is by leak of damaging information with only one objective… All the leaks have a common denominator -- all of the leaks are designed to hurt Secretary Clinton."
Clinton’s role in discussions of security in Benghazi
Seven previous congressional investigations looked into Clinton’s role in the Benghazi attacks. Much of that discussion has centered on whether or not Clinton could have addressed security at the compound more effectively.
Schiff and Pompeo went toe-to-toe over this issue on Meet the Press.
Pompeo: The Accountability Review Board, which undertook one of the previous investigations, "made it very clear that the secretary of state was supposed to personally review security at high-threat areas. That is, not hand it down to a deputy or an under-secretary or anyone else."
Schiff: The Accountability Review Board "decided that the chain of command in terms of security at the embassies and consular facilities did not rise to the secretary of state -- that the secretary of state was not involved in the micromanagement of security at these facilities."
Classified information in Clinton’s emails
On Oct. 8, Gowdy told the State Department the committee would release more emails from Clinton’s private server related to Benghazi. He said that one of the emails sent between Clinton and confidant Sidney Blumenthal contained the name of a CIA source, which would debunk Clinton’s claim that she did not send classified information through the server, Gowdy said.
Before Gowdy appeared on Face the Nation on Sunday, Cummings released a letter claiming the CIA had debunked Gowdy’s accusations that Clinton’s emails contained classified information.
"The CIA yesterday (Saturday) 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 in the letter to Gowdy. "Specifically, the CIA confirmed that ‘the State Department consulted with the CIA on this production, the CIA reviewed these documents, and the CIA made no redactions to protect classified information.’"
A few hours later, Gowdy released a response letter.
"Contrary to your assertion, the CIA did not inform the Committee that anything about the facts stated in the October 7 letter ‘[was] wrong,’" Gowdy wrote to Cummings. "As usual, I would ask you to completely and accurately relate the facts rather than attempt to create an impression that is misleading based on an incomplete and selective recitation of the facts."
Democratic participation in the committee’s investigation
On Meet the Press, Schiff accused Pompeo and the committee’s Republicans of leaving the Democrats on the committee out of the loop.
Schiff said, "We requested witnesses to come before the committee, and you know what they did? They interviewed these witnesses without even telling us because ultimately, when they did interview the witnesses, they didn't corroborate the Republican conspiracy theories. … We can't set up a hearing, we can't issue a subpoena. We can't even vote on a subpoena… We asked the Republicans at the beginning, let's establish rules for the committee. Let's establish rules so we can vote on subpoenas. You can have the majority vote, whatever. They wouldn't even establish rules."
Pompeo disagreed. "What Mr. Schiff said is just false. The Democrats haven't asked for a single witness. I've ask him to name the witness that he came to us and wrote us a letter and ask for that witness. Not a single interview has been conducted without Democrats or Democrat staff participating."
Schiff responded, "That's just not true, Mike. That's just not true."
The Select Committee on Benghazi, "CIA Debunks Gowdy’s Allegation That Clinton Email Contained Classified CIA Source," Oct. 18, 2015
Select Committee on Benghazi, "Gowdy Response to Latest Cummings Letter," Oct. 18, 2015
New York Times, "Flare-Up on Benghazi Committee as Hillary Clinton Testimony Nears," Oct. 18, 2015
NBC News, "Previewing Thursday's Benghazi Committee Showdown," Oct. 18, 2015
CBS News, "Rep. Elijah Cummings on Benghazi investigation: ‘It’s a sad day for all of us,’" Oct. 18, 2015
CBS News, "Benghazi chairman to GOP colleagues: ‘Shut up,’" Oct. 18, 2015
New York Times, "Suit Over Firing Exposes Strife Within Benghazi Panel," Oct. 10, 2015
Washington Post, "Benghazi fight deepens as GOP vows to release more Clinton e-mails," Oct. 8, 2015
PolitiFact, "Clinton: 7 Benghazi probes so far," Oct. 12, 2015
The Select Committee on Benghazi, Letter from Trey Gowdy to Elijah Cummings, Oct. 7, 2015