Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) on Tuesday demanded that the State Department speed up the process of getting information to Congress about the 2012 attack that led to the death of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
But several Democrats rejected Gowdy's implied argument that State is stonewalling, and said State had not rejected any request for information yet. Democrats argued that Gowdy's Select Committee on Benghazi only started asking for information in mid-November, and State so far has not rejected any request for this information.
These exchanges took place during a Tuesday morning hearing in Gowdy's committee, which continues to be somewhat preoccupied by these sorts of political disputes. Just hours earlier, Republicans released a letter defending committee practices that Democrats have said are unfair and politicized, the latest sign that the committee may not be able to produce a bipartisan report on Benghazi.
Gowdy used the Tuesday hearing to say his committee would be undeterred by political infighting, and would try to move faster to answer outstanding questions about the 2012 attack. But to get there, he said State needs to move more quickly.
"We're going to pick up the pace," Gowdy told Joel Rubin, State's top liaison to Congress, at a Tuesday hearing. "I have no interest in prolonging this, none. So you're going to have to pick up the pace with us, OK?"
Gowdy hinted a subpoena could be the next step if State fails to move quickly enough. Rubin said State would continue to work with Gowdy's Select Committee on Benghazi to provide all documents and witnesses, and said several times that State has not refused any request for information.
But Gowdy keyed off one of Rubin's statements indicating that some witness testimony may not be available if it would somehow conflict with other investigations. "We… look forward to continuing to work with your staff to ensure that your requested interviews can proceed, so long as they do not jeopardize the Department of Justice's investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators of the Benghazi attacks," Rubin said.
Gowdy heard that as a possible limitation on his committee's access to information, and said one of the reasons State was called to testify is that State is the only agency that set this condition.
"Do you see the Justice Department at this hearing?" Gowdy asked.
"No sir," Rubin replied.
"Do you know why they're not at this hearing?"
"Because we don't have any issues with them," Gowdy said.
The tense exchange was followed by comments from several Democrats who dismissed Gowdy's interrogation as an attempt to make it look like State was slowing down the process. Instead, they argued that Gowdy's committee only just recently started requesting information from State about Benghazi.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said that while the committee was formed in May, it made its first document request in November, and State has been working to fulfill that request.
"I just want the record to be very, very clear here," Smith said. "The State Department has not said no. Now, if we get to the point that they do, then we can have a conversation about it."
"That whole little back and forth to sort of create the illusion that the reason the committee is moving so slowly is because of your unwillingness is very unfair to you and very unfair to the State Department," Smith said of Gowdy's line of questioning.
Another Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.) said he wasn't sure exactly why Rubin was called to testify, but said it appeared to be "so that we can beat up on you."