This Monday all five Democratic Members of the Select Committee on Benghazi sent a letter informing Chairman Trey Gowdy that they plan to begin releasing witness interview transcripts, starting with the interview of former State Department Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, in order to correct the public record after numerous inaccurate Republican leaks.
“Despite claims that the Committee would be run with integrity, Republicans have engaged in a series of selective leaks of inaccurate and incomplete information in an effort to attack Secretary Clinton with unsubstantiated or previously debunked allegations,” the Democrats wrote.
“The latest example occurred after the Select Committee’s interview of Cheryl Mills, the former State Department Chief of Staff. It has become obvious that the only way to adequately correct the public record is to release the complete transcript of the Committee’s interview with Ms. Mills,” the Democrats wrote.
Democrats point to the Republican leaks as further evidence of Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s stark admission that House Republicans created the Benghazi Committee to wage a taxpayer-funded political attack against Secretary Clinton’s bid for president.
The Democrats’ letter released several excerpts from Ms. Mills’ interview that rebut Republican allegations against Secretary Clinton and the administration, but were never made public by Republicans.
Before releasing the full transcript, Democrats are giving Gowdy five days to identify any specific information in the transcript he believes should “be withheld from the American people.”
“We understand that you have not released any of the Select Committee’s transcribed interviews to date, but we believe it is time to start. We note that you have objected to Democrats releasing Committee documents until the conclusion of the investigation, but you already crossed that bridge yourself when you unilaterally released a subset of Secretary Clinton’s emails on June 22 with no debate or vote by Committee Members,” the Democrats wrote.
“Therefore, we plan to begin the process of correcting the public record by releasing the transcript of Ms. Mills’ interview. Since you have indicated your unwillingness to do this in a bipartisan manner, we plan to do so ourselves.”
The letter itself offered a stern rebuttal of Republican allegations against Sec. Clinton:
Rebuttal of Republican Allegations
During her interview, Ms. Mills also rebutted several Republican allegations against Secretary Clinton and the administration, but Republicans have not made any of this information public to date.
For example, contrary to the allegation that Secretary Clinton ordered Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to “stand down,” Ms. Mills explained Secretary Clinton’s actions on the night of the attack:
Q: Did Secretary Clinton request that military assets be deployed?
A: She actually on our SVTCS [Secure Video Teleconference]—which obviously had the presence of a number of different agencies, of which I believe DOD was one—said we need to be taking whatever steps we can, to do whatever we can to secure our people. And I can remember that someone from the White House said that the President was 100 percent behind whatever needed to be done and we needed to do whatever needed to be done. And that’s, you know, that’s what he would expect, but it’s also what was said.
Ms. Mills also explained how Secretary Clinton pressed for rapid action in response to the attacks:
She was pretty emphatic about wanting whatever to be done and whatever were assets that could be deployed, if that was both effective and possible to be done. Obviously, it was a challenging environment, given that our compound had been overrun. And so you want to ensure that, as you also are thinking about who else might go in, how they are able to do that effectively. But my observation and impression and, obviously, engagements were around what can be done, what can be sent, and how can that be done best. There was not any notion of not doing that to the fullest amount that was practical, effective, and possible.
Ms. Mills also had the following exchange about Secretary Clinton’s level of engagement on the night of the attacks:
A: She was very concerned. She was also very determined that whatever needed to be done was done. And she was worried. She was worried not only about our team on the ground in Benghazi but worried about our teams that were on the ground in Libya and our teams on the ground in a number of places, given what we had seen unfold in Egypt.
Q: Did she seem uncertain as to how to respond?
A: No. She was very—she was very certain. And, indeed, when we said it was going to be a staff SVTCS, which was our diplomatic way of saying that maybe she shouldn’t be attending, she said, “I’m coming.” And so we tried to make sure the rest of the interagency knew ahead of time that she was going to be on, but we were unsuccessful, so they were surprised when she sat down.
Q: So were you surprised by that?
A: I’m not surprised, because that’s her approach. She’s a person who steps in and leads. She’s someone who, when there is accountability, takes it. So I wasn’t surprised. But I know that it can sometimes be intimidating to other staff that there is a principal present. And what she really was communicating that night is, “I’m here because I want my team safe. I’m not here because I’m here for any other reason than trying to get their safety. And whatever we need to do to do that I want to do.”
Ms. Mills also explained Secretary Clinton’s response to the loss of life:
I think she was devastated. Ambassador Stevens was someone she had a lot of confidence and respect for. And his guidance and his way was a compelling one. And the notion that he had been murdered, I think, was something that all of us thought was unbearable, but I think she particularly felt the pain of that. She also felt the pain of the loss of other Americans that were there that night, whom she didn’t have a personal relationship with but who she knew were there because they were trying to further our own interests. And so she felt very strongly about claiming all of them, even at a time where there was ambiguity about how that should or shouldn’t be done, but also in honoring their service and what they had done. And, in the days afterwards, she spent time reaching out to our team in Tripoli, constantly trying to determine if they had what they needed, constantly trying to remind people that, while we all have jobs, people are fragile and you have to remember the fragility of people and their humanity and you have to give respect to that. And she made herself consistently present to people on her team because she wanted them to know that, as hard as this was, this was something that required us all to bear witness, to learn, and to try to be the very best we could in those moments.
Finally, Ms. Mills explained that this commitment was shared throughout the interagency, including by the President:
Absolutely everything was on the table. And, like I said, obviously, the President made that clear too, and that was important. My impression was that we really had a lot of support from the interagency, who I felt like were very not only just humanly empathic but operationally committed to doing what needed to be done to try and secure our folks and get them out of there.
Republicans have never disclosed any of this information from the interview of Ms. Mills to the public because it directly contradicts their political narrative.
On Tuesday Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the Benghazi Select Committee, appeared on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews to discuss the Select Committee on Benghazi Democrats plan to begin releasing witness interview transcripts, starting with the interview of former State Department Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, in order to correct the public record after numerous inaccurate Republican leaks.