Benghazi Panel Releases Blumenthal Emails, but Not Transcript

Trey Gowdy defended his decision to keep Sidney Blumenthal's deposition private for now, and blasted Democratic critics of the GOP-led investigation.

Chairman Trey Gowdy and Rep. Elijah Cummings prepare to start a House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi hearing on Capitol Hill, September 17, 2014 in Washington, DC.  (National Journal)

The GOP leader of the House Select Committee on Benghazi released emails Monday from Sidney Blumenthal to Hillary Clinton, but rejected Democratic calls to make public the transcript of Blumenthal's deposition with the panel alongside the email messages.

Blumenthal, a close Clinton family ally, handed the emails to the committee more than a week ago. The batch of emails contains messages from Blumenthal to Clinton that were not included in what the State Department provided to the panel in February.

Rep. Trey Gowdy released the messages Monday alongside a lengthy letter to Rep. Elijah Cummings, the panel's top Democrat, reiterating his argument that releasing the transcript would break with the committee's precedent.

But Gowdy said that committee members will meet to discuss the issue, raising the prospect that the full record of Blumenthal's daylong deposition in the Capitol last week will eventually see daylight.

The meeting will be in private and has not yet been scheduled, a GOP committee aide said.

Gowdy's letter to Cummings seeks to rebut a suite of criticisms lobbed in recent days at his handling of the probe and Blumenthal's appearance.

Democrats, who accuse Republicans of a partisan political attack to hurt Clinton's White House run, say the tally of questions showed that panel members focused on Blumenthal's relationship with Clinton and work with pro-Clinton groups rather than the 2012 attacks in Benghazi that killed Amb. Chris Stevens.

The letter to Cummings says the committee never expected Blumenthal to answer questions about the attacks because he wasn't there and did not collect the information he passed along himself, among several other reasons.

"The better question is why Secretary Clinton wasted her time reading 'intelligence' memos from a witness who had never traveled to Libya, had no firsthand knowledge of the facts in Libya, had no conceivable way of vetting the information passed on and may have been working with others who possessed a financial interest in Libya, and why she asked so few questions about the reliability and credibility of these memo before forwarding them—or ever," Gowdy writes.

The newly released emails with Clinton in 2011 and 2012, like previously released messages, contain detailed memos about Libyan intelligence issues as well as press clippings. Clinton passed some of the emails along to senior aides while questioning the reliability of the information in some cases.

Blumenthal told the committee that he was not the author of the intelligence briefings but was passing along information from a former high-level CIA official.

Gowdy is seeking to learn whether the State Department had the emails that Blumenthal provided but did not turn them over in response to prior document requests, or whether they were not turned over by Clinton when she provided State with messages from her private server last year.

Gowdy "requested the State Department provide the House their copies of these emails by the end of the day, if they have them," his committee office said in a statement issued with the release of the emails Monday.

John Kirby, a State Department spokesman, told reporters Monday that the department is reviewing the emails that Gowdy released Monday. "We are working through that right now to determine if there are emails in that batch that we either didn't have or may have not provided," he said at a briefing.

Democrats say that differences in the wording of the committee's document requests over time could explain why Blumenthal turned over some messages that State had not previously provided to the panel.

Cummings issued a statement criticizing the decision to release the emails and the decision not to release the transcript, which Democrats say would have put the messages in their proper context.

"By the Chairman's own admission, these emails have absolutely nothing to do with the attacks in Benghazi, and their selective release demonstrates the Select Committee's singular focus on attacking Hillary Clinton and her bid for president," Cummings said.

Gowdy defended the decision to release the messages.

"These emails should have been part of the public record when Secretary Clinton left office and at a bare minimum included when the State Department released Clinton's self-selected records on Libya. For that reason, the committee has made the decision to release the latest set of Clinton's public records unearthed by the committee," Gowdy said.

Gowdy, while not ruling out release, argued that making the deposition public could hinder the panel's probe. "Releasing transcripts can impact the recollections of other witnesses, jeopardize the efficacy of the investigation, alert witnesses to lines of inquiry best not made public, and publicize personal information," Gowdy wrote.

This article has been updated.