WASHINGTON ― The work of the Select Committee on Benghazi theoretically ended on Friday the way it began ― amid partisan acrimony ― but with a much lower profile and no fanfare amid a lockdown of the U.S. Capitol.
More than two years after a dramatic, attention-grabbing partisan vote in the House of Representatives launched the committee, it held its first and only working meeting in secret, debating and voting to release the same report it released on June 28.
The press was not allowed in the secure room three floors below the Capitol where the meeting was held, on the grounds that classified material was involved. Democrats on the committee, however, had asked to at least have an open session.
When lawmakers emerged from the meeting ― which continued through the half-hour lockdown on Capitol Hill ― they said the substance of the report had not actually been discussed. Instead, Democrats sought to speed up the release of transcripts and other materials that they felt were especially important.
Republicans objected, accusing Democrats of trying to spin the work in their favor. But both sides said they want everything released eventually.
“All of the amendments were process amendments ― not a single amendment offered to a single factual assertion made in our report,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the committee’s chairman.
And although Gowdy said “our committee’s work is done,” and that the committee “will cease to exist in the very near future,” he also revealed that it could keep functioning until the end of the year.
Indeed, the committee plans to interview a witness next week to quiz him about various inconsistencies in a letter he wrote. And Gowdy told reporters that he would also be looking at inconsistencies from any of more than 100 witnesses who testified under oath, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Numerous Republicans have said Clinton should face a perjury investigation over her statements that she did not send classified material over her unauthorized private email system. FBI Director James Comey testified to the House Oversight Committee on Thursday that Clinton did send such material but that there is no evidence that she lied to the FBI about anything. He also declined to characterize her other statements as lies.
“She is one of a hundred witnesses. And we are going to look,” Gowdy said when asked if he would ask the FBI for a new perjury probe. “We’ve got former federal prosecutors standing up here, and we’ve got former federal prosecutors on our staff, and we have an obligation to do that with all the witness transcripts, hers and the other hundred however many, too.”
Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said Thursday that he would ask for such a probe, but Gowdy said he was not ready to go there yet.
“I can’t tell you until I complete the review,” he said.
Gowdy also said staff would have to stay on to work with the administration to clear classified transcripts and other documents for public release. It was unclear how long that could take, but he said the speed would depend on the administration clearing material.
Democrats criticized the meeting before it started.
“Here we are, more than 26 months after I requested a business meeting, and we’re finally having our first business meeting,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said, noting that the endeavor has cost more than $7 million.
“What began with such a high-profile announcement ends quietly in the basement of this building in a secret hearing,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) added.
And while Republicans point to a few new details they uncovered, Schiff said there was only one significant development from the committee.
“That is we established a terrible precedent that will haunt this building, and that precedent is that a taxpayer-funded, select investigative committee can be used for a strictly partisan purposes during a presidential campaign,” Schiff said. “The singular object of this committee has been to drive up the negatives of Secretary Clinton.”