State Department Releases 1st Round of Hillary Clinton Emails in Benghazi Inquiry

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Hillary Clinton speaks at the United Nations in New York City on March 10, 2015, when she addressed a controversy over her use of a personal email account while she was secretary of state. (Credit: CNN)

The State Department released Friday its first round of emails from Hillary Clinton’s time as Secretary of State, offering a new look at her handling of the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

The roughly 300 emails, about 850 pages, are part of the 30,000 that she turned over to State from her private email server, which she used almost exclusively to conduct both private and public business during her time at State.

“The emails we release today do not change the essential facts or our understanding of the events before, during, or after the attacks,” the State Department tweeted shortly after the announcement.

Facing considerable backlash and deep skepticism over her use of a private server as she makes her second bid for the White House, Clinton asked State to make her emails public this past March, and repeated her public push to have them released on the campaign trail this week.

The State Department initially planned to release them in January 2016, but a federal judge ruled this week that there should be a “rolling production” of the emails, and they must be disclosed publicly in batches before then. Clinton called for State to expedite their release this week in Iowa, saying “nobody has a bigger interest in getting [the emails] released than I do.”

A congressional panel investigating the Benghazi attacks, meanwhile, has had the emails related to Benghazi and Libya since February.

Details of Clinton’s email habits that have trickled out over the past few months suggest she used email sparingly, mostly for logistics and to forward information to aides. She’s said previously that she was careful to never use email to exchange classified information, and the initial batch isn’t expected to show otherwise — the highest classification of messages was “sensitive but unclassified.”

On Thursday, the New York Times published a portion of the emails relating to Benghazi, which include a handful from controversial Clinton ally Sidney Blumenthal tipping Clinton off to volatile conditions on the ground in Libya, including one blaming the Benghazi attacks on an anti-Muslim video, which he later walked back.

The top Democrat on the Benghazi committee released a statement praising the State Department’s decision to release all of the emails pertaining to the attacks at once and said they would vindicate Democrats’ assertion that Clinton did nothing inappropriate in her response.

“Instead of the selective leaking that has happened so far, the American people can now read all of these emails and see for themselves that they contain no evidence to back up claims that Secretary Clinton ordered a stand-down, approved an illicit weapons program, or any other wild allegation Republicans have made for years,” Rep. Elijah Cummings said in the statement.

He added: “The Select Committee should schedule Secretary Clinton’s public testimony now and stop wasting taxpayer money dragging out this political charade to harm Secretary Clinton’s bid for president.”

But panel chairman Trey Gowdy vehemently disagreed, characterizing the emails released as providing a selective and incomplete picture because a team of attorneys working for Clinton chose which ones to send to State, and saying “unresolved questions” still remain about Benghazi.

“We will not reach any investigative conclusions until our work is complete, but these emails continue to reinforce the fact that unresolved questions and issues remain as it relates to Benghazi,” he said.

Gowdy said that to get a full picture, Clinton should turn over her servers to a “a neutral, detached, independent third party for review.”

“The Committee’s interest is in building a complete record from which the final, definitive accounting regarding the terrorist attacks in Benghazi can be provided. The best way to answer all questions related to the attacks in Benghazi continues to be having access to the full public record, not a “record” controlled, possessed and screened exclusively by Secretary Clinton’s personal lawyers.”