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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 9:48 pm | Fair 46º

 
 
 
 
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Joe Conason: Benghazi! Hiding a Transcript — and the Truth

The strange saga of the House Select Committee on Benghazi continues as its chair, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., fends off renewed questions about the committee's purpose, as well as demands to release the sworn deposition of Sidney Blumenthal, taken behind closed doors on June 16.

In a CNN interview, Hillary Clinton — the actual target of Gowdy's investigation — recently brushed off accusations about her use of a private email server and mocked his partisan probe.

"This is being blown up with no basis in law or in fact," Clinton said. "That's fine. I get it. This is being, in effect, used by the Republicans in the Congress, OK. But I want people to understand what the truth is. And the truth is everything I did was permitted and I went above and beyond what anybody could have expected in making sure that if the State Department [servers] didn't capture something, I made a real effort to get it to them."

Gowdy answered by reiterating previous claims that only his committee's intrepid work had revealed Clinton's email practices.

"The fact of the matter is it took the Benghazi Committee to uncover Secretary Clinton's use of personal email and a server to conduct official State Department business," the chairman declared after her interview aired. He went on to make a series of further accusations about the emails, insisting that the messages about Libya sent to her by Blumenthal were "solicited" by her and not, as she described them, "unsolicited."

These disputes might be cleared up if Gowdy would release Blumenthal's testimony, since he answered all the committee's questions under oath.

When questioned about the emails he sent to Clinton, Blumenthal probably mentioned the indisputable fact that her use of a private email server was revealed not by the Benghazi committee but by a Romanian hacker known as "Guccifer" — now serving time in prison for stealing messages from Blumenthal as well as former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Dorothy Bush, the sister of former President George W. Bush. Many of those emails, obtained by Guccifer in a suspected Russian intelligence operation, were published on the Internet months before the Benghazi committee came into existence.

And Blumenthal surely noted, again under oath, that his emails to Clinton were "unsolicited," despite Gowdy's strained attempt to prove otherwise — as Gowdy undoubtedly knows. That is one of many reasons why he continues to suppress the former Clinton aide's testimony. The excuse proffered by committee Republicans is that releasing closed testimony might discourage candor by future witnesses — an argument undercut by letters from Blumenthal attorney James Cole, urging the committee to release his client's full deposition.

Evidently, Gowdy prefers his staffers to leak the Blumenthal testimony, in order to smear both Clinton and the witness he claims to be protecting. For weeks, snippets of Blumenthal's testimony and of his emails to and from Clinton have turned up in the media, to advance negative, highly distorted perceptions of both the former secretary of state and her longtime friend.

Meanwhile the Gowdy-led committee has learned little of real significance, despite spending millions of taxpayer dollars. But they have keenly pursued matters of partisan interest, such as Blumenthal's work for Correct The Record, a political committee that publicly defends Clinton and other Democrats, and Media Matters for America, the watchdog against right-wing misinformation in the media. David Brock, the founder of both groups, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former Maryland lieutenant governor who chairs Correct The Record's board, sent a sharply worded letter with a simple demand.

Emphasizing that Gowdy and other Republican committee members asked at least 45 questions about Blumenthal's "association with our organizations," their letter urged him to disgorge the deposition in full:

Mr. Chairman, we are entitled to know what questions you and other committee members asked about our organizations in Mr. Blumenthal's deposition. ... Your unethical leaking was a further abuse of congressional power. The only way we can clear our good name is by knowing exactly what innuendoes and insinuations Republican members made about us behind the committee's closed doors.

Indeed, Gowdy no longer seems to expect anyone to believe his denial that the recent leaks emanate from him and his staff — as Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple noted recently, the chairman seemed to "wink" at a recent leak to Politico that sparked a brief controversy last week. Besides, nobody else would have either the motive or the opportunity to orchestrate the leak campaign.

Joe Conason is editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. Click here to contact him, follow him on Twitter: @JoeConason, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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