Democrats on the House Select Committee on Benghazi released a transcript of portions of testimony given last month by Cheryl Mills, Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff at the State Department, and say they plan to release the rest in the next five days.
In a letter sent to committee chairman Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, five Democrats claim that they will unilaterally release the transcripts in order to “correct the record” about what Mills said during a nine-hour, closed-door interview conducted on Sept. 3.
The Democrats, led by Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, claim that Republicans on the Committee have selectively leaked portions of Mills’ testimony in order to make her, Clinton and the Obama administration look inept in response to the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The attack, carried out by terrorists associated with al-Qaeda, left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
“We believe it is time to begin releasing the transcripts of interviews conducted by the Select Committee in order to correct the public record after numerous inaccurate Republican leaks, and we plan to begin this process by releasing the full transcript of Ms. Mills’s interview,” the Democrats wrote.
The Democrats, as well as the Clinton presidential campaign, have ramped up their criticism of the Benghazi Committee, claiming that the special panel is designed to hinder Clinton’s presidential bid.
The Democrats’ letter cites comments made last week by House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy. In an interview on Fox News, McCarthy, who is running for House Speaker, pointed out that the Benghazi Committee’s discovery of Clinton’s exclusive use of a personal email account and a private server have caused her poll numbers to fall dramatically.
While Democrats have repeatedly called for the release of testimony from Clinton aides, Gowdy and other Committee Republicans have resisted, saying that they want to ensure the integrity of the investigation.
But the Democrats assert that Republicans have already violated their own self-imposed standard.
“We understand that you have not released any of the Select Committee’s transcribed interviews to date, but we believe it is time to start,” they wrote. “We note that you have objected to Democrats releasing Committee documents until the conclusion of the investigation, but you already crossed that bridge yourself when you unilaterally released a subset of Secretary Clinton’s emails on June 22 with no debate or vote by Committee Members.”
“Therefore, we plan to begin the process of correcting the public record by releasing the transcript of Ms. Mills’ interview. Since you have indicated your unwillingness to do this in a bipartisan manner, we plan to do so ourselves.”
The Democrats say they will give Gowdy five days to review Mills’ interview transcript to remove any portions he believes should be withheld. They also published portions of the Clinton aide’s testimony in their 2,600-word letter.
In one portion highlighted by the Democrats, Mills described Clinton’s response to news of the Benghazi attack.
“I think she was devastated. Ambassador Stevens was someone she had a lot of confidence and respect for,” Mills reportedly told the Committee. “And the notion that he had been murdered, I think, was something that all of us thought was unbearable, but I think she particularly felt the pain of that.”
The Democrats also published a section of the interview which they say undermines a claim leaked by Republicans that Mills admitted that she had reviewed and suggested changes for a report from the Accountability Review Board (ARB). Clinton impaneled the investigative body, chaired by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering.
In her testimony, Mills reportedly denied that she attempted to exert influence on the ARB’s investigation.
Democrats also call attention to testimony Mills gave on statements made by Susan Rice, who was Ambassador to the UN at the time of the Benghazi attack. Rice infamously claimed on national television days after the Benghazi attack that it was a spontaneous response to a short movie that criticized Muslims.
Politico reported shortly after Mills’ interview that a Republican source said that Mills claimed that she did not know why Rice went on television to make those statements.
But Democrats say that Mills did not question the accuracy of Rice’s statements.
“I know that she had received preparation materials and points, and I’m assuming that’s how she relied on them and she relied on them to relate what she related on the program,” Mills told the Committee, adding “but I don’t know, because I didn’t participate in her prep or in the materials for her prep.”
Jamal Ware, the spokesman for Committee Republicans, issued a statement defending the decision to not release witness interviews until the Committee has finished its investigation.
“The Committee has not released transcripts from witness interviews for myriad reasons, including the need to hear from all witnesses and gather all facts before drawing inferences or conclusions from those interviews, and the need to avoid tainting the recollections of future witnesses,” he said.
“By selectively leaking and spinning parts of Secretary Clinton’s top aide Cheryl Mills’ transcript, Democrats have shown their nakedly political motivation, willingness to violate the letter and spirit of House Rules, and their desire to defend Secretary Clinton without regard for the integrity of the investigation,” Ware added.
This article has been updated to include Ware’s statement.