WASHINGTON – Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the Select Committee on Benghazi, appeared on Fox's Kelly File Monday night and offered an apology for taking so long to subpoena the emails related to Benghazi that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent on her private email accounts.
"Shame on me for taking six months, but really shame on me if I trust(ed) the State Department to be that neutral, detached arbiter of her records because they failed in the past to do so."
Andrew McCarthy, contributing editor to National Review, frequent Fox News commentator and a former federal prosecutor, had severely criticized Gowdy for the delay. But, in response to Gowdy's admission, McCarthy tweeted:
Advertisement - story continues below
"On #KellyFile, @TGowdySC very gracious in conceding he took too long to subpoena #ClintonEmails & trusted #StateDepartment to his detriment."
By way of explanation, Gowdy told host Megyn Kelly that in back in August he began seeing some of Clinton's personal emails but not official emails. He said the State Department had promised not to have an adversarial relationship with his investigative committee, but throughout September and October he kept asking, "Where are the rest of our emails? The official emails?"
"I finally ... wrote her lawyer and said, 'I need emails from your client.' He referred me back to the State Department," said an incredulous Gowdy.
"We learned the day before the New York Times article broke that she did not have any official email account and that the State Department had no idea or not whether we had all the records because they didn't have all the records."
Advertisement - story continues below
"We were being told the whole time, 'We need more resources, we need more time. Will you please prioritize what you really need.' I mean, we even had to have a public hearing with (State Department official) Joel Rubin because we weren't getting anywhere."
"The State Department had six months to have the conversation you and I are just having," the chairman said to Kelly.
That's when Gowdy admitted, "Shame on me for taking six months" to subpoena all of Clinton's emails related to Benghazi.
Earlier Monday, a source close to Gowdy defended the congressman's work as chairman of the Select Committee on Benghazi from blistering accusations by McCarthy.
Advertisement - story continues below
But, in an emailed response to WND, McCarthy would not back down, and amplified his charges that the committee has grossly mishandled its attempts to obtain relevant emails from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The war of words on the right broke out when McCarthy penned a piece in National Review over the weekend accusing Gowdy of either running a sham investigation or not being up to the task.
McCarthy concluded, "There are two possibilities, and they are not mutually exclusive":
"(1) The committee is just a Potemkin probe erected by the Republican establishment to get restive conservatives to pipe down, and (2) the committee is incompetent."
Advertisement - story continues below
The accusations hinged around this statement made by Gowdy at the start of a March 3 news conference:
"The committee became aware of former Secretary Clinton's use of personal email accounts for official State (Department) business late last summer. The committee made this discovery in documents turned over to the Benghazi committee, and these documents had never before been produced to any other congressional committee examining Benghazi.
"More recently, we discovered former Secretary Clinton relied exclusively on private email accounts to send and receive emails."
On Wednesday, Gowdy's committee subpoenaed Clinton's private emails.
McCarthy's point was, if the committee knew she was using "personal email accounts for official State (Department) business late last summer," "what took them so long" to issue the subpoenas? Why the wait?
McCarthy said that was, in itself, a scandal.
When asked to respond, a source with the committee and close to Gowdy told WND in an email that the State Department had told the committee only recently that Clinton exclusively used personal email. Once the committee learned the State Department never had her emails to begin with, the circumstances changed. That is why the committee then directly subpoenaed Clinton.
When informed by WND of that response, McCarthy was not mollified.
"Chairman Gowdy says he is running the committee like a prosecutor conducting a meticulous investigation. When a prosecutor learns that a subject of his investigation is using private email, he issues a subpoena forthwith. From the investigator's standpoint, whether the use of private email is occasional or exclusive does not affect his responsibility – his job is to obtain the evidence."
The Benghazi committee source also reiterated what Gowdy said Sunday on "Face The Nation," that the chairman had lost confidence in the State Department.
McCarthy had a withering rejoinder:
"I'm relieved to hear he's lost confidence in the State Department, but that begs the question why he had confidence in the first place. State has a history of withholding and misrepresenting information about Benghazi.
"In fact, the week Chairman Gowdy held his first hearing, a witness came forward to say that he'd seen Secretary Clinton's top aides removing documents from what was supposed to be disclosed to Clinton's hand-picked Accountability Review Board."
McCarthy then reiterated his doubts about Gowdy's approach to the investigation:
"So if he continued to have confidence in the State Department's transparency in this particular matter, that is baffling. But that is almost beside the point. The State Department is a subject of the investigation that Mr. Gowdy says he is conducting like a meticulous prosecutor. A prosecutor does not rely on the good graces of the subjects of his investigation to produce evidence. He uses his subpoena power."
Prior to that latest critique, the committee source defended the chairman's approach to the investigation, informing WND the committee has wanted to investigate the matter as far as possible before it became public.
The source said the committee has been trying to determine all the facts in order to write the definitive account, not a headline.
The source warned the media not to confuse the committee's intentional silence with inaction.
But McCarthy's beef doesn't appear to be with the silence; it is with what he perceives as inaction.
Specifically, he finds it inexplicable the committee has waited since last summer to subpoena Clinton's private emails, when the committee first became aware she was conducting official State Department business on her private email accounts.
McCarthy's criticism in National Review of Gowdy and his committee was scathing and unsparing.
Bemoaning the committee's "ten sleepy months of operation," he wrote there was mostly one question about the "newly erupted Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal. ... Why is the scandal newly erupted?"
"In Washington’s best headline-grabbing fashion, Chairman Gowdy leaped on the latest Clinton scandal" to announce his committee had issued subpoenas for all of Clinton’s communications related to Libya, as well as the emails of others with pertinent information.
"What on earth took them so long?" wondered McCarthy.
He called Gowdy, "a highly experienced prosecutor with a real courtroom flair, (who) offered his signature biting barbs that sweep conservatives off their feet."
"Just the fiery outrage we’ve come to expect from Congressman Gowdy." Then the former federal prosecutor cautioned, "But for all the big wind, there never seems to be much rain."
McCarthy mocked the committee's attempt to continue to gain access to Clinton's Benghazi emails via the State Department since learning of her use of private accounts.
"Fabulous! Gowdy just got finished railing about how Clinton used private e-mail precisely to avoid the government-mandated paper trail. So what’s he been doing about it for six months? Discussing the matter with Clinton’s loyal staffers — i.e., people who helped her carry out the scheme — and with the State Department — i.e., the people he just got done telling you have neither the relevant e-mails nor access to them."
Then came the harshest accusation of all.
"Gowdy, by his own account, did not issue a subpoena to address a scandal he has long known about until the scandal became public.
"That in itself is a scandal."
McCarthy then doubled-down on his accusations and alluded to the possibility of a nefarious motive.
"As some of us have contended for some time, there is abundant reason to fear that Republicans do not want to get to the bottom of Benghazi. GOP congressional leaders were major supporters of Obama’s disastrous decision to ditch our counterterrorism alliance with Qaddafi and empower jihadists to oust him.
"Some of those jihadists were complicit in the Benghazi attack — and they’ve since turned Libya into a failed state in which both al-Qaeda and ISIS now have footholds. Furthermore, if there was a covert operation to help move arms from Libya to the Syrian 'rebels' — some of whom worked with al-Qaeda, others of whom became ISIS — it is a near certainty that top congressional Republicans were in the loop when it was approved.
"To listen to what Trey Gowdy says is to be confident that these fears are baseless, that his committee will relentlessly pursue the truth wherever it leads."
"To watch what Trey Gowdy does, which doesn’t seem to be much, is to worry," McCarthy concluded.
WND was the first to report similar concerns about the integrity of the Benghazi commission.
On Jan. 18, WND senior staff reporter Jerome Corsi spoke with various members independent Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi, or CCB, speaking on their own behalf and not as spokesmen for the commission, who expressed concerns the Gowdy investigation might be compromised by elements within the GOP.
The CCB’s members include former military commanders and Special Forces operatives, former CIA and intelligence officers, well-known experts in international terrorism, and experts in media and government affairs
The founding members of the CCB were U.S Army Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, U.S. Navy four-star Adm. James Lyons, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney (all retired) and Accuracy in Media Editor Roger Aronoff.
Vallely told WND that he believed Gowdy "has received much pressure not to get to the truth, and we are now coming to the conclusion that there is no longer any intention in Washington, by the leadership of both the Democratic and Republican Parties, to get to the truth."
"An honest investigation into Benghazi would prove treasonous acts at the very top of the White House and the State Department, and a continuing cover-up in Congress that now involves the Republican leadership and especially House Speaker John Boehner," Vallely said.
Among the CCB’s most significant findings, released last April in an interim report, was that "the U.S. facilitated the delivery of weapons and military support to Al Qaeda-linked rebels in Libya” and that “on the day of the attacks in Benghazi, whether or not there was an official order to stand down, the result was the same."
"There were military assets, for example, at the U.S. base in Sigonella, in Sicily, Italy, that could have been brought to bear, and perhaps could have saved the lives of the two men killed at the CIA Annex, the scene of the second attack that night," the report said. "The failure to attempt to rescue these Americans amounts to a dereliction of duty."
The commission found evidence that there was a stand-down order given to the security guards at the CIA annex after the attack began at the special mission compound, one mile away, where Ambassador Christopher Stevens and information officer Sean Smith were killed.
The purpose of the mission in Benghazi appears to have involved a scheme managed by Stevens, first to supply weapons to al-Qaida-related groups and others who sought to overthrow Muammar Gadhafi and later to Syrian rebels.
Republican leaders are covering up the White House’s offenses, some commission members believe, because the White House made them aware of the gun-running and they gave assent to it.
The other founding members of the commission share Vallely’s concern.
"Trey Gowdy’s Select Committee is proceeding at glacial speed," said Lyons, former commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. "It is unclear where Gowdy is going, and the signs are not good."
Aronoff believes Gowdy might yet conduct a thorough investigation into Benghazi that would produce the truth and was encouraged by closed-door meetings that were held last week between the Select Committee and both the State Department and the Justice Department. But he also expressed some concerns.
"At the time Gowdy was picked, all of us were ecstatic," Aronoff said. “Gowdy was the one guy that, if we were asked, the Citizens’ Commission would have said was the right guy."
He said that after the first meeting of the House Select Committee, Gowdy was saying the right things, suggesting he would hold a public hearing within a month.
“Whether there was some sort of a deal cut at the beginning of Gowdy heading the select committee we don’t know,” he said.
“We’ve been publicly hesitant to criticize Gowdy, because we’re still hopeful he’s going to be the right guy,” Aronoff emphasized. “We’re trying now to pressure them from the sidelines, and we don’t want to come out blasting Gowdy, saying that the ‘fix is in.’ We still feel the select committee is there, and we want to give Gowdy the benefit of the doubt to see what he does.”
Citizens’ commission member Pete Hoekstra, who served for 18 years as a congressman from Michigan, and who was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee before retiring from Congress, told WND he retained confidence Gowdy will produce a good investigation.
“I’m not anywhere close to giving up on the work of Gowdy’s committee,” Hoekstra said. "The good thing is that Gowdy and his select committee have jurisdiction across all the different departments and agencies of government that are or might be involved in the Benghazi attack.”
Hoekstra said he still believed Gowdy’s committee “will be the first to give the entire Benghazi incident a complete and thorough look.”
Retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles Jones, another commission member, also expressed concerns about Gowdy’s investigation.
“I think Gowdy is serious, and I think he is a real patriot, but I think he has been warned away from the final conclusion or he’s been threatened,” Jones told WND.
“I’ve been working very closely with the Citizens’ Commission, and I think Gowdy, if he doesn’t go any further than he has, has either been warned within the Republican Party or threatened externally.”
“I’m concerned there is something going on between the establishment Republicans in Congress and the Obama administration of not wanting to get to the truth,” Vallely said. “If you look at the first two public hearings that Gowdy held, they were primarily some very low-level people that weren’t necessarily involved in what happened in Benghazi. But, really, those first two hearings have been very ineffective in getting to the truth of what really happened.”
Vallely said he and his colleagues worked 10 months after their first press conference to get Boehner to appoint a select committee.
“Boehner really did not want a select committee. He delayed. He was pressured, and he didn’t think it was necessary,” Vallely said. “For some reason, we believe, Boehner understood from the Obama administration that they did not want to press it, because what we feel now is that Boehner and the Republican leadership in Congress really don’t want to get to the truth.”
On Jan. 22, Adm. Lyons, speaking on his own behalf and not for the commission, told Corsi, “This is a continued cover-up. You have to take the wraps off and you have to go for the jugular. Is Gowdy so incapable and ineffective that he can’t boss these agency heads to comply with Congress’ mandate? Is he that ineffective?”
Lyons said if Gowdy "isn’t the man for the job because he’s being thwarted by some government bureaucrat that stonewalls Congress, then maybe we were wrong to be enthusiastic about Gowdy in the first place.”
Another member, Clare Lopez, a former career operations officer with the CIA who now is vice president for research at the Washington-based Center for Security Policy, cautioned against jumping to conclusions.
"We have the general subject matter for what the select committee hearing next week is going to cover, but we really don’t know how it will play out,” Lopez said. “We also don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors in the select committee hearings. If Gowdy is proceeding as a good prosecutor should, he is lining up all his ducks before he goes public with anything."
Follow Garth Kant @DCgarth