House Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy hit back at a disgruntled former staffer Sunday after he claimed in a CNN interview that he was fired from the committee because he refused to target Hillary Clinton for political reasons. In a statement released Sunday, Gowdy said that neither he nor anyone else on the committee instructed the staffer, Maj. Bradley Podliska, an intelligence officer in the Air Force Reserve, to focus on Clinton.
Podliska, who describes himself as “a conservative Republican,” told CNN’s Jake Tapper that “the committee trained its sights almost exclusively on Clinton after the revelation last March that she used a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.”
That new focus flipped a broad-based probe of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, into what Podliska described as “a partisan investigation.”
Podliska, who was fired after nearly 10 months as an investigator for the Republican majority, is now preparing to file a lawsuit against the select committee next month, alleging that he lost his job in part because he resisted pressure to focus his investigative efforts solely on the State Department and Clinton’s role surrounding the Benghazi attack. He also alleges he was fired because he took leave from the committee to fulfill his military service obligations, which would be an unlawful firing.
“Because I do not know him, and cannot recall ever speaking to him, I can say for certain he was never instructed by me to focus on Clinton, nor would he be a credible person to speak on my behalf,” said Gowdy in the statement. “I am equally confident his supervisor, General Chipman, did not direct him to focus on Clinton.”
It was Podliska himself — not the committee — who was improperly focused on Clinton, according to Gowdy.
“To wit, until his Friday conversations with media, this staffer has never mentioned Secretary Clinton as a cause of his termination, and he did not cite Clinton’s name in a legally mandated mediation,” said Gowdy. “He also has not produced documentary proof that in the time before his termination he was directed to focus on Clinton. The record makes it clear not only did he mishandle classified information, he himself was focused on Clinton improperly and was instructed to stop, and that issues with his conduct were noted on the record as far back as April.”
Gowdy also refuted Podliska’s claim that the committee used his reserve status as a basis for his termination. “I would note first this staffer’s reserve duty was approved both times it was requested,” he said.
In all of the interviews conducted since news broke of Secretary Clinton’s email arrangement, exactly half of one interview focused on Clinton’s unusual email arrangement. The Benghazi Committee has now interviewed 44 new witnesses, including 7 eyewitnesses to the attacks never before interviewed, and recovered more than 50,000 pages of new documents. Approximately 5 percent of those are Secretary Clinton’s self-selected email records. I cannot say it any plainer than stating the facts, the Benghazi Committee is not focused on Secretary Clinton, and to the extent we have given any attention to Clinton, it is because she was Secretary of State at all relevant times covered by this Committee’s jurisdiction.
Had CNN contacted the Committee regarding its interview with this staffer before it rushed to air his sensationalistic and fabulist claims, it could have fully questioned him about his unsubstantiated claims. But that is the difference between journalism as practiced by CNN, and the fact-centric investigation being conducted by this Committee.
CNN refuted those allegations in its own statement Sunday.
“We categorically deny Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy’s statement about CNN,” a network spokesperson said. “We reached out to the committee for a response prior to publishing or broadcasting, which the committee provided. That response was included in our reporting. In addition, Chairman Gowdy was invited to discuss this on CNN and declined. Chairman Gowdy is wrong.”
But in Gowdy’s defense, he had complained CNN had not contacted the committee prior to the interview on Friday — not prior to the publishing or broadcasting of the interview on Sunday.
According to CNN, an unnamed committee spokesperson “vigorously” denied Podliska’s allegations about why he was fired, and declared that the committee would not be “blackmailed.”
“We are confident that the facts and evidence give no support to the wild imagination fueling these and any future allegations, and the Committee will vigorously defend itself against such allegations. The Committee will not be blackmailed into a monetary settlement for a false allegation made by a properly terminated former employee,” the committee spokesperson, who declined to be named, told CNN in a statement.
“This Committee always has been, and will be, focused on the four brave Americans we lost in Benghazi and providing the final, definitive accounting of the Benghazi terrorist attacks for the American people,” concluded Gowdy in his statement.