The State Department on Friday released nearly 900 pages of e-mails on Libya and the Benghazi attacks from the private account Hillary Rodham Clinton used while she was secretary of state.
The messages have been turned over to a select House committee investigating the Sept. 11-12, 2012, attacks on U.S. compounds in Benghazi, in which the ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans were killed.
Few of the e-mails deal directly with events leading up to the attacks or their aftermath, according to those who have seen them. Many contain administrative details, press accounts, speech drafts and other information exchanged between Clinton and her senior aides.
But the messages, some of which were published this week by the New York Times, capture the concerns of Clinton and other officials about the political chaos that engulfed Libya during and following the 2011 NATO air attacks that facilitated the overthrow and death of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi later that year.
In a statement announcing the pending release, via posting on the State Department’s Web site, deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said: “The emails we release today do not change the essential facts or our understanding of the events before, during, or after the attacks, which have been known since the independent Accountability Review Board report on the Benghazi attacks was released almost two and a half years ago.”
The Republican-led committee, which has had the Clinton e-mails since February, has charged that they present only a limited picture of Clinton’s involvement in what some lawmakers allege was the Obama administration’s failure to prevent the attacks and a subsequent coverup.
The committee has been deeply divided along party lines since it was created a year ago.
In an update issued earlier this month, chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said the committee had faced “obstacles and frustrations,” and he accused the administration of repeatedly failing to provide documents and witnesses “in a timely manner.”
“The largest impediment to being able to write the final, definitive accounting of what happened before, during and after the terrorist attacks in Benghazi is the executive branch itself,” Gowdy wrote in a prologue to the 15-page document.
In a May 14 letter to Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Gowdy said that “to date, the State Department has not produced one single piece of paper responsive to the Committee’s request for records from the former Secretary’s leadership team.”
Democrats, pointing to the many congressional and independent reports about the Benghazi attacks in the past, the number of witnesses who have testified, and the tens of thousands of pages of documents provided, have accused Republicans of being behind a partisan effort to undermine Clinton’s presidential electoral prospects.
In response to Gowdy’s letter to Kerry, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the committee’s ranking minority member, said that “Republicans are on a fishing expedition for anything they can use against Secretary Clinton, and every time they come back empty-handed, they extend their trip at taxpayer expense.”
The charge that State has produced nothing, Cummings said, “is completely baseless and appears to be yet another excuse to drag out Secretary Clinton’s testimony until closer to the election.”
In a statement Friday, Cummings said he was pleased by the release. “Instead of the selective leaking that has happened so far, the American people can now read all of these emails and see for themselves that they contain no evidence to back up claims that Secretary Clinton ordered a stand-down” of U.S. efforts to rescue American officials during the Benghazi attacks, or approved a secret program to ship Libyan weapons to Syria, “or any other wild allegations Republicans have made for years.”
He called on the committee to stop “dragging out this political charade to harm Secretary Clinton’s bid for president.”
Democrats have said Gowdy has repeatedly moved the goal posts since the committee last November requested all Clinton e-mails relating to Benghazi and possible arms transfers from Libya.
The Clinton e-mails were culled by the department from 55,000 pages of documents she handed over in December from her private e-mail account while she was secretary.
Clinton refused a committee request to provide a closed-door deposition, saying she would testify in public before the committee. No date for her testimony has been set, and the committee majority has said there is no point in asking her questions until it has all the other information it needs.
In March, the committee subpoenaed all documents and communications from 10 additional current and former senior State Department officials for a two-year period ending in December 2012. In April, State asked Gowdy for more specificity, including search terms, on what he was looking for, saying that it would speed up the process. Gowdy refused, and then appealed to Kerry.
The committee has also demanded that the State Department release to it all 55,000 pages of Clinton e-mails so it can make its own decision about which are relevant to its investigation.
After State said it might need until next January to properly review the documents before handing them over, a federal judge this week ordered it to produce a plan to release them in batches, on a rolling schedule, before then.