Hillary Clinton is willing to testify before the House Select Committee that is investigating the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, according to the panel’s top Democrat.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Tuesday said he has spoken to Clinton about the possibility of testifying at the request of Rep. Trey Gowdy (S.C.), the panel’s Republican chairman, and she “did not hesitate for one second.”
“She said … I’ll do it, period,” Cummings said after the committee’s third hearing.
Cummings said Clinton, who was secretary of State at the time of the Benghazi attacks, indicated to him last year that she “wanted to come in December” to testify but could also come in January.
“The fact is that she was very clear,” Cummings said.
The possibility of an appearance from Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 if she makes a bid, has loomed as the biggest question for the Benghazi panel since its formation last summer.
Gowdy first floated the possibility of Clinton testifying late last year, creating the potential for a dramatic confrontation with the former secretary of State over a security failure that some Republicans argue should disqualify her from the presidency.
Clinton is “a witness that we would like to talk to. I cannot tell you when,” Gowdy said in December.
With the race for the White House set to erupt soon, Democrats could be maneuvering to accelerate the work of the Benghazi panel so that it is not investigating Clinton while she is running for the presidency.
Gowdy, a former prosecutor, on Tuesday said he and Cummings had initially agreed last year that Clinton should be brought before the panel.
But after that discussion, Gowdy said, Cummings had an unexpected change of heart.
“The deal I had with Mr. Cummings is we will bring her before the committee within 30 days of receiving all the [State Department] documents responsive to our request,” Gowdy said.
He said the State Department must hand over the information the panel is seeking, including potentially some of Clinton’s emails, before Clinton testifies.
“If I were to conclude this investigation having not talked to the secretary of State at the time it would be an incomplete investigation,” Gowdy said. “But I can’t talk to her until I have the documents that would make that conversation productive. I’m not interested in having a conversation where old allegations are repeated or a shouting match.”
“I want to ask specific questions rooted in documents,” he added.
Gowdy said he would be “happy to take her in January, February, March, whenever” but that it was up to the panel’s Democrats on “how quickly” they get to her testimony.
“I’m willing to work with them on the timing. I’m willing to do it sooner rather than later,” Gowdy said. “What I’m not willing to do is do it in a vacuum where I don’t have access to the documents.”
Cummings disputed that he changed his mind about having Clinton appear.
“That’s not true. I don’t know how he could say that because we’ve never been against it. He asked me to check with her. I did that she said she was willing to come so it was a non-issue,” Cummings said.
“If the committee wants her to come, she’s willing to come,” the Democrat added.
The spat over Clinton’s testimony comes at time of rising partisan tensions on the select committee, with members clashing over how the panel is conducting its investigation.
On the eve of an open hearing Tuesday, Cummings released letters in which he accused Republicans of conducting witness interviews in secret and withholding information from the Democratic members of the panel.
“I am saddened to report today that there are major, major problems with this committee and its work,” Cummings said in his opening statement, adding that its work is moving at a “glacial pace.”
Gowdy fired back that the criticism was “interesting” coming from Democrats, given that they fought the creation of the panel and have repeatedly threatened to boycott its work.
But Gowdy saved most of his ire for the State Department, taking it to task for failing to comply with requests for witness testimony and documents.
“This is not a political exercise for us,” Gowdy said. “We’re going to ratchet it up because I need access to the documents and the witnesses and we need to be able to conclude our work.”
The House created the select committee last May to investigate the 2012 Benghazi attacks. Republicans argue a new probe was needed to explore unanswered questions about the administration’s response to a terrorist assault that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Democrats have accused the GOP of launching a “witch hunt” against Clinton, and on Tuesday portrayed the panel as a partisan exercise.
“Now, more than ever, I’m convinced that my colleagues are in search of a mythical creature — a unicorn, that is, a made-up conspiracy that does not exist,” said Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.).
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said the Republican majority on the committee made no document requests between May and December, adding that Gowdy’s comments about wrapping up their work “boggles the mind.”
Republicans dismissed the complaints as “ridiculous” and said the five Democrats’ on the panel were hypocrites because they have not suggested any witnesses or requested any documents for the probe.
“The happiness of the Democrats was never my objective in the first place,” Gowdy said after the hearing.
“They’re looking for a reason to leave.”
Credit Martin Matishak, The Hill – 01/27/15