On the eve of Hillary Clinton’s highly anticipated testimony before the House committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks, Democrats followed through on their threat to unilaterally release the transcript of the committee’s interview with Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s former chief of staff.
The transcript does not contain any details that shatter preexisting notions about the attacks. But over the course of more than nine hours of questioning last month, Democrats and Republicans both gave a preview of how Thursday’s questioning of Clinton herself might go.
The committee’s Republican chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, asked Mills about how Clinton’s emails were classified as “personal” and thus not handed over to the State Department; about Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal’s memos to the secretary; about the findings of the Accountability Review Board, which was created after the incident; and the talking points that were developed following the attacks.
And while Mills appeared lighthearted at the time, the questioning from Republicans seemed anything but—Gowdy, a lawyer and former prosecutor, was methodical and dead serious.
The transcript, hundreds of pages long, also paints a largely positive picture of how Clinton reacted on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, from the perspective of former secretary of state’s top aide.
“She was very engaged,” Mills said. “She was deeply concerned about and engaged in what needed to be done to secure our team and hopefully bring them to safety.”
Mills also spoke about how Clinton was affected by the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
“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,” Mills told the committee.
Clinton’s scheduled testimony Thursday before the House Select Committee on Benghazi is a seminal moment for her campaign, which has been hit hard by criticism of her use of a private email account while in government.
“It is like a drip, drip, drip,” Clinton said in September about her emails, acknowledging that the issue has cost her in the polls.
The Benghazi committee’s legitimacy has also been hit hard by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s suggestion that it was set up to bring Clinton’s poll numbers down and by a fellow Republican congressman’s statement that the committee was “designed to go after” Clinton.
And then, a former House Republican staffer claimed after being fired that the committee was improperly focused on Clinton rather than on the attacks that left four Americans dead in 2012.
The series of remarks have noticeably frustrated Gowdy, who told his fellow Republicans to “shut up” if they weren’t on the committee and directly knowledgeable about its activities.
“I have told my own Republican colleagues and friends, ‘Shut up talking about things you don’t know anything about,’” Gowdy said. “Unless you’re on the committee, you have no idea what we’ve done, why we’ve done it, and what new friends we have found.”
The Republican missteps have emboldened Democrats on the committee, who had previously said they would not release private information to journalists while the investigation was still going. The Democrats claim that a “series of selective leaks of inaccurate and incomplete information,” targeted at Clinton, necessitated the release of Mills’s transcript.