Hillary Clinton tried to take a break from controversy this week with a speech at Columbia University in New York voicing her concern about civil unrest in Baltimore and her prescription for reforming the criminal justice system.
But for the former Secretary of State and leading Democratic presidential candidate, renewed controversy is always just around the corner.
On Thursday, House Republicans announced that their once floundering probe of Clinton’s conduct surrounding the 2012 terrorist attacks on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya just got another important boost: The State Department handed over 4,000 pages of new documents to a select House committee investigating the tragic attacks that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher J. Stevens.
“The Benghazi Committee continues to build the most comprehensive and complete record on what happened before, during and after the Benghazi terrorist attacks," Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), chair of the panel, declared in a statement.
"Contrary to those who said all had been asked and answered, the Benghazi Committee has shown there is more still for Congress to consider. The committee will provide the final, definitive accounting of what happened with regards to Benghazi, reaching conclusions based solely on facts," he added.
The disclosure of the new documents came on the same day that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a favorite of many liberal Democrats, announced that he would challenge Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
Clinton said she welcomed Sanders’ entry into the race, just weeks after she formally announced she was running. But Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, made it clear he intends to sharply criticize her 2002 vote in the Senate to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq – a vote she later acknowledged was a mistake.
Sanders also promised to contrast his views with those of Clinton’s on the Keystone XL oil pipeline project and President Obama’s push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal -- two matters that he and other liberal Democrats oppose but that Clinton has been dancing around.
After seven previous investigations by various congressional committees and the State Department into the events surrounding the Benghazi killings, it looked as if the Republicans were once again drilling a dry hole. Yet House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and other Republicans were determined to try again to unearth evidence that Clinton was somehow negligent in responding to complaints about inadequate security at the compound or failed to adequately respond to reports of the fiery attacks by terrorists.
Gowdy had once indicated he wanted to finish his investigation by the end of the year – a potential blessing for Clinton who could finally put another unpleasant chapter of her career behind her before the 2016 presidential campaign really started to heat up.
That was before the The New York Times first revealed in early March that Clinton had used her private email and server to conduct official State Department business and that she had deleted tens of thousands of personal messages after leaving the Obama administration in early 2013.
Last week, Boehner threatened to subpoena her email server in search of additional evidence about her handling of the Benghazi attacks. At the same time, Gowdy said in a letter to Clinton’s lawyer that she better begin preparing for two separate appearances on Capitol Hill: one during the week of May 18 to determine whether the House panel had all the relevant documents and emails it needs and the second, no later than June 18 if committee members are satisfied they have all relevant information, to question Clinton again on her handling of the Benghazi crisis.
With the State Department’s decision to turn over 4,000 additional pages concerning the Benghazi tragedy and Clinton’s involvement, there are certain to be additional leads to follow that can easily push the investigation well into next year.
In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if the committee issued its final, critical report just before the Democratic National Convention meets in Philadelphia next July to nominate a candidate.
The documents were provided by the State Department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB) investigation into the deadly assault on the diplomatic outpost. They include, among other things, emails and interview summaries, a congressional source told The Hill yesterday. This apparently was the first time that the State Department has turned over ARB documents to Congress.
"Getting this production from State's Benghazi ARB is an important part of ensuring the committee has access to all the facts," according to Gowdy.
The State Department said that the new trove of documents from its own investigation into the deadly 2012 attack does not change the "essential facts" known about the attack. And a Democratic committee aide told The Hill that while the select committee indeed has received the work papers, they shouldn’t start popping the champagne corks just yet.
"Not surprisingly, the work papers support the unanimous findings of the Board, which identified no evidence to support claims that Secretary Clinton ordered a stand-down, personally denied security requests, oversaw a covert weapons program, or any of the other wild claims Republicans have been making for months," the aide said..
But Gowdy and other Republican committee members almost certainly will come up with a much different interpretation after studying the documents. It wouldn’t be the first time the administration provided Republican controlled committees with documents it considered relatively harmless, only to have the Republicans extract some juicy evidence.
The disclosure of the fresh set of documents came on the same day that Rep. Elijah Cummings (MD.), the special committee’s ranking Democrat, criticized the GOP for touting the committee’s work in fundraising.
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