After one year of work and more than $2.5 million in spending, the Republican-led U.S. House committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks on Friday issued an "interim progress report." Instead of progress, the panel's Democrats say they've witnessed a 12-month political charade.
Formed exactly one year ago to review administration decisions and actions before and after the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks at U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, during which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed, the committee has operated mostly behind closed doors, holding just three public hearings.
“What have we accomplished?" asked Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Benghazi committee, in a statement.
A lot, countered committee chairman Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican. "This Committee has interviewed eyewitnesses never before interviewed, obtained tens-of-thousands of pages of documents never before provided, and reviewed new information central to the investigation such as FBI reports specific to the interrogation and prosecution of Abu Khattala," a Benghazi attack suspect,.
He contended that "the greatest impediment to completing this investigation in a timely manner has been the level of cooperation by the executive branch."
Most of the public focus on the committee has been on the Republican quest for additional testimony from Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the attack, and the partisan sparring over access to her private e-mails after revelations she had used private e-mail for work purposes.
Clinton's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, made official last month, has cast a shadow over the committee's actions. Republicans say they don't expect to wrap up and release their findings until some point in 2016, timing that Democrats have cast as foot-dragging to coincide with the final stretch of the 2016 presidential campaign. "After a full year, it now seems obvious that this investigation is being dragged out in order to attack Secretary Clinton and her campaign for president -- squandering millions of taxpayer dollars in the process—while Republicans use this tragedy to raise campaign funds," Cummings contended.
The report states the committee has identified another 60 current and former officials to interview. Among them: Clinton herself. The former secretary of state has promised to testify in public but no date has yet been set.
In the committee report, Gowdy said the investigation has been also slowed because of the inadequacy of "the constitutional tools provided the Legislative Branch," including, he says, are obstacles to the subpoena process.
The report does goes on to state the committee held over two dozen classified and unclassified briefings with the Administration and Executive Branch agencies "that have information relevant to the investigation." Democrats contend Republicans are going over territory covered by multiple previous investigations.
These talks, according to the report, are what led to the State Department's production 0f 15,000 pages of new document, including emails to or from Clinton, as secretary. That is how the committee became aware the former Secretary had used a private e-mail account to conduct official State Department business." In addition, the committee has reviewed "a substantial volume of information" previously produced to the House in other investigations, the report states, adding that more than 20,000 pages of emails and documents "never before released to Congress have been produced by the State Department."
The committee also has interviewed State Department and CIA personnel, including survivors of the Benghazi terrorist attacks who had never been interviewed by previous committees, and others it says have been able to provide "indispensable firsthand details of the U.S. presence in Benghazi." The committee also has held meeting with the families of the victims, and with respective agencies to discuss survivorship benefits.