A top Democrat accused House Republicans Sunday of using the select committee on Benghazi to discredit Democratic 2016 front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton as deep into the presidential cycle as possible, as revelations about her exclusive use of private email during her tenure as secretary of state forced the panel’s GOP chairman to insist he’s not on a witch hunt.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California said Republicans on the Benghazi panel want to keep Mrs. Clinton in a negative light, so that the hubbub around her use of a nongovernment email server “is only the most recent justification for that.”
The panel’s Republican chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, insisted that all he wants are State Department emails that could shed light on what happened before and after four Americans were killed in the September 2012 on the U.S. diplomatic compound and CIA annex in Libya.
“I have zero interest in looking at her personal emails,” Mr. Gowdy told “Fox News Sunday.” “I don’t care about her yoga practice. I don’t care about bridesmaids dresses. I don’t want to see that. But who gets to decide what’s personal and what’s public?”
The back-and-forth foreshadowed what could be a long, heated debate over how House leadership responds to the email scandal that has engulfed Mrs. Clinton as she sets up the infrastructure for a likely presidential run.
Mrs. Clinton broke her silence in the scandal last week, saying that her use of private email was a matter of convenience, in that she wanted to use one device for work and private messages.
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Speaking at the U.N., she said she has “taken unprecedented steps” to release 55,000 pages of emails to the State Department, adding that it is up to the agency to decide what to do with them at this point. But she said she will not turn over her server, and said Americans should trust her judgment as she decided what emails to turn over and what to delete.
Mr. Gowdy said he is simply trying to procure relevant emails, yet he can’t trust Mrs. Clinton’s lawyers to determine what should be made public.
That raised questions about whether House Republicans should compel Mrs. Clinton, legally, to turn over her server.
“I hope it doesn’t get to that point,” Mr. Gowdy told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It’s an open legal question and any time you litigate something you’re talking about years and years. I think an imminently reasonable alternative is for her to turn over that server to an independent, neutral third party.”
He said he has “zero interest” in stretching out his Benghazi investigation into 2016, yet the wrinkle over Mrs. Clinton’s email may have impeded his efforts.
“We don’t get to grade our own papers in life, and she had a very unique arrangement with herself as it relates to public records,” Mr. Gowdy said.
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Mr. Schiff wasn’t so sure, saying Mrs. Clinton has been ready and willing to cooperate.
“We have been asking for her to come in. She has volunteered to come in and testify,” Mr. Schiff told Fox. “So, I think this is really unfortunately just an effort to push this far into that campaign as possible.”