WASHINGTON — After 11 hours, three rounds of testimony, and some 300 questions for Hillary Clinton, the chairman of the Republican-led House Select Committee had no answer when asked to name a piece of new information gleaned from Thursday's hearing on the handling of the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, flanked by the six other Republican committee members who questioned Clinton, told reporters that he'd have to review her testimony.
"In terms of her testimony, I don't know that she testified that much differently today than she has the previous times she's testified," Gowdy said during a four-minute press conference in the lobby of the Longworth House Office Building.
"So I'd have to go back and look at the transcript."
Asked if the marathon hearing had been a waste, Gowdy said again, "Well, I've got to go back and look at the other transcripts to see whether or not she said anything different or not." The chairman noted that his has been the only Benghazi investigation with access to Clinton's records. "You have to talk to the secretary of state, and you have to talk to her after you gain access to her documents."
For Gowdy, the "better question," he said, is "how the previous committees were able to write their reports without access to what we had access to."
In recent weeks, Clinton and her campaign advisers have cast the committee as a targeted, politically motivated "hit-job," citing in particular, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's remarks that the committee had damaged Clinton's poll numbers. Gowdy, meanwhile, looked to Thursday's hearing as a opportunity to defend and prove legitimate the 17-month investigation into the 2012 terrorist attack that killed four men, including Ambassador Christopher J. Stevens.
The committee probed Clinton for more than 8 hours on topics ranging from her Libya policy as secretary of state, to her relationship with outside adviser Sidney Blumenthal and her communications with Stevens.
The hearing did not produce much in the way of outbursts from Clinton: As committee members confronted their witness, and one another, with pointed, often aggressive lines of questioning, Clinton maintained a calm and even tone throughout. But the testimony did reveal some new insight surrounding Clinton's response to Benghazi and her dealings with Blumenthal, a former reporter who advised the Clinton's in the White House and has remained a close friend.
Among them: In a call with the Egyptian prime minister after the Benghazi attack, Clinton described the violence as planned and not related to the anti-Islam video. (During the hearing, Clinton also testified that one of the attackers, now apprehended, has cited the video.) The committee also presented a previously unseen email, sent from Clinton to her daughter Chelsea on the night of the attack, describing the terrorists as an “al Qaeda-like group.”
Clinton also talked at length about the extent of her communication with Stevens: The ambassador, she said, did not have her personal email; he communicated instead with her top policy aide, Jake Sullivan. But Stevens, a friend she hand-picked for a special diplomatic assignment in Libya, she said, never made requests for additional security with Sullivan or others on Clinton's staff.
Clinton also spoke in more detail about her relationship with Blumenthal. She told committee members that she would not characterize him as an "adviser" on matters pertaining to Libya. Clinton said she did not know who provided Blumenthal with the intelligence Blumenthal frequently sent in emails and memos. Clinton sometimes forwarded that information to staffers at the State Department.
Throughout the hearing, the Democratic members on the committee attempted to frame the endeavor as a political exercise, producing nothing of value that could help strengthen security protocols or prevent future attacks. After a final two-and-a-half-hour round of questions, the committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings, questioned the point of the hearing in an exasperated closing statement.
"I don't know what we want from you!" he said to Clinton. "We are better than that!"
Earlier in the hearing, Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff flatly told his colleagues, "The reality is that after 17 months, we have nothing new to tell the families."
Asked if the committee had lost credibility after Thursday's showing, Gowdy said, "I thought these were credible folks before we started today."
"That's up to y'all to report that," he said. "I thought it was a constructive interaction."
Late Thursday, Gowdy said the Benghazi committee members would continue as planned in interviewing witnesses before drafting a final report. "As I said this morning, she's one important witness out of what's now 50 important witnesses, and there are a couple left to go," Gowdy said of Clinton. "So, in terms of conclusion, I don't draw conclusions until the end, and there are more witnesses to talk to.
"From my standpoint, we keep going on."