June 16, 2015 / 3:32 PM / 4 years ago

Clinton friend Blumenthal testifies to Benghazi panel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime ally of Hillary Clinton who was an unofficial adviser when she was U.S. Secretary of State, testified all day Tuesday behind closed doors before a congressional panel probing the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Then White House aide Sidney Blumenthal departs from the U.S. Capitol after his deposition in the U.S. Senate impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, February 3, 1999. REUTERS/Stringer

Democrats accused the Republican-majority committee of seeking to damage Democrat Clinton’s presidential run by subpoenaing her old friend, who had no apparent first-hand knowledge of the attacks.

“This Benghazi Select Committee has become the committee to investigate Hillary Clinton, period,” Representative Elijah Cummings, the most powerful Democrat on the panel, said.

The House of Representatives committee is looking into memos Blumenthal emailed to Clinton about Libya around the time of the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Its chairman, South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, said during a break that Blumenthal was answering questions in a “very civil atmosphere.”

But he denied Democrats’ accusations that Republicans are using the investigation to hurt Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“I fail to see how we’re playing politics by talking to someone who sent a large number of memos to the top diplomat we had during the relevant time period,” Gowdy said.

Representative Adam Smith, a Washington state Democrat on the committee, called the Blumenthal deposition a diversion that “was only tangentially, at best, involved with Benghazi.”

Smith declined to discuss details of the session but said the investigation in general “is not going, I think, in a productive direction.”

Blumenthal’s emails were among 850 pages of Clinton’s messages related to Libya that the State Department released to the public last month. Some contained information from a former CIA official, Tyler Drumheller. One said fighters had infiltrated a demonstration outside the U.S. mission in Benghazi before attacking it, but a December 2012 State Department report concluded there was no protest at the mission then.

Blumenthal gave nearly 60 new emails to the committee before his appearance, according to Gowdy, who said they were “eerily similar” to the other Blumenthal emails and added the committee “should have gotten this information sooner.”

The message traffic has raised questions about whether Blumenthal or his associates were trying to promote business interests in Libya, an allegation people close to him have denied. Blumenthal, who once worked as a senior adviser to former President Bill Clinton, has said he sent the emails as a private citizen and friend.

Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Ken Wills

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